easy entertaining

When Life Gives you Lemons

Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

We're pretty partial to San Juan Islands fruit - and love to labor with the good ol' stuff from island trees that have been producing fruit and sharing their bounty for over a century. But in the dark of winter, when the light tips beyond the solstice, we keep our hands busy with the citrus that accents all of our jams, organically sourced from California.

People often lament that we don't make a marmalade (we do, but not in the traditional sense -see Quince Marmalade.) It may sound silly to say it feels inauthentic to do so, in an era where local has multiple meanings (is the maker local? are the beans local?) but we count our blessings. We're blessed with legacy orchards, filled with luscious pears, apples, plums & quince. Not lemons. And yet what we do bring in to press for their perfect acidic antidote to sweet pomes, we want to make the most of. Enter our Lemon Lavender Shrub, hot off the copper pots. Island lavender meets bitter lemon oils from said lemon rinds & juice, organically sourced white wine vinegar, and fair trade organic cane sugar. The bitter/sweet/sourness is perfection for cocktails (French 75?) and refreshing spritzers. It captures winter in the south (lemons) & summer in the north (lavender), and reminds us that while we make throwback preserves and bow to the old dames, modern can be fun (and delicious) too! 

Just watching the late February snow melt away - I'm certain of it: cheers to spring! She's coming!

Tattletales: Rustic Farm Egg Quiche with Coho Salmon & Chive

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On Troller Point's boat, the F/V Ocean Oasis, there are 4 coil shaped levers set over the rigging lines.  The captain and deckhands watch the levers for the slightest bit of movement, indicating a fish may have latched onto the lewer deep in the ocean below.  They're called tattletales; fitting for the simple instruments that spill the beans on the fish waiting below.  But it's not as simple as it seems.  The movements are small, subtle, nuanced.  It takes a trained eye to distinguish between one indicating a caught salmon, and one moved by the wind or rippling or sloshing waves.  This quiche on the other hand, takes far less training.  

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Things aren't always as they seem.  Quiche is one of those homey recipes I love having in my back pocket.  It's my go-to in a pinch - if I find out guests are coming over for lunch the morning of, or if I want something I can make ahead of time - I call on quiche.  If I'm even more pinched for time, enter the frittata - which for me, is the quiche below sans the crust.  Ideally I'd serve it with some crusty bread and a salad mixed from whatever was fresh in the garden (a handful of bright herbs dressed in salt & olive oil do wonders).  But if you have time - make your own crust (always make extra to freeze), and call it quiche.  If it weren't for all the rich omega-3's in the filling I'd probably eat it alone.  Or roll it out thin, spread on a bit of quince marmalade, sprinkle with sliced almonds and bake.  Topped with thick greek yogurt I might even call it breakfast.  

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This is one of those recipes that is a canvas - for whatever bits and bobs you have in your garden, on the windowsill, or produce drawer.  Salmon pairs nicely with numerous alliums.  Chives could easily be substituted with leeks, shallots, or if you're lucky enough, the thinnest strands of green garlic.  The goat cheese could be cream cheese, or left out and served with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.  Nothing nuanced, subtle, or complicated about it.  Just good, simple, fresh food.  I'll leave the nuances to the tattletales. 

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Rustic Farm Egg Quiche with Coho Salmon & Chives

Quiche is quintessential brunch fare in my book.  It's my favorite thing to prepare when family is in town as it's easily made in advance and great after it sits for a bit.  You can make it even easier (and gluten free) by nixing the pastry shell and preparing it in a skillet as a frittata.  Be sure to heavily butter or oil the pan before pouring in the egg mixture if you go this route.  Otherwise bake as indicated below.  

Serves 5-6

1/2 pate brisee recipe below (par-baked), or prepared tart/pie shell

4 oz salmon trimmings

5 farm fresh eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped chives

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Freshly ground black pepper

If you're baking your own pastry shell, follow the recipe below, using a 9-inch round pie pan.  While you are par-baking the shell, place the salmon trimmings on a piece of foil with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 6 minutes, or until just cooked.  Remove from the oven and flake into pieces.  

Leave the oven on or preheat to 350 degrees if you're using a prepared shell.  Beat together the eggs in a bowl with the cream and salt.  Add the chives and salmon.  Pour into pie shell and dot evenly with goat cheese.  Finish with a few cracks of black pepper.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, or until set in the center, and puffed and brown.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.         

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Pate Brisee Dough

Makes 1 double sided crust or two 9-10 inch tart shells (freeze extra dough by wrapping tightly in plastic wrap)

1 cup unsalted butter (cold - this is key)

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tspn salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Cut up cold butter into small cubes (I aim for 16 from one stick).  Mix salt into flour.  Toss in salted flour and work with your fingertips as little as possible to blend in the flour.  Don't fuss about getting even crumbles- it's fine to have some sandy bits and some chunky bits- that's what makes the crust flaky.

Mix in cold water, just enough to pull the butter and flour mixture together, and quickly mound together until it just holds.  Don't overwork the dough.  If it doesn't look perfect that's totally fine, you can patch it up with a little water once in the shell.  If you have time, chill the dough in the refrigerator before rolling (wrap tightly in plastic wrap).  Overnight is fine if you want to prepare in advance, but even 30 minutes helps.

Now it's time to roll out the dough.  If you've made the recipe as above, reserve half the dough and freeze.  You'll only need half for the tart shell.  Dust flour on the rolling surface (a silpat mat is genius), and quickly (this is all about working the dough as little as possible), roll out the dough into a shape that will accommodate your pan.  Once rolled out, fold the dough over your hand for easy transporting into the shell.  Press into the shell and trim off any excess.  Scrunch the edge in a nice pattern or press with the tines of a fork.  Pop in the freezer for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

To par-bake: Line the shell with foil or parchment paper and cover with pastry weights, rice, or dried beans.  Bake the shell for 15 minutes on the middle rack.  Remove from oven and remove foil & weights.  Return to oven and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes, covering the edges with foil if they start to brown too much.   

Relax. The hard part is over.  If you're all about ease, buy a premade shell, but it's not going to be quite the same.  Something about a homemade crust that makes it for me. Try it once.

Home to Spawn: Spring Herb Slow Poached Wild Coho Salmon

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She was never very good with details -- how thinly the onions should be sliced, how long to squeeze the out of season lemon for; the dribble of most meals inevitably on her just cleaned shirt.  She peppered a recipe with unanswered questions, prompting me always to ask -- what about the butter, mom?  "Oh yes, I forgot the butter.  You know about the butter, just add the butter!"  Like coming home with a straight-A report card, she'd say, matter of fact: "Good job Audra.  Did you make your bed this morning?"

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None of that was crucial.  Bootstrapping.  My mother taught me to pull myself up by my own britches.  To know when to add that butter-- or to figure it out myself.  To get straight A's for me, and no one else.  And so it is with her recipes:  filet of salmon, a lemon or two, an onion, & wine (white, of course).  Oh, and that butter too.  Reading her instructions is like coming home to spawn -- the work has just begun.  

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The salmon should be firm, with shiny scales, the salt from the open sea washed off by a long run up one of our formerly raging Northwest rivers.  They're still a little angry, like mom, on a good day, when three kids and a traveling husband didn't seem quite so overwhelming.  She'd walk in the door and greet our after school faces with Skittles, or a trifecta of Charleston Chews -- one double chocolate, one vanilla, and one strawberry.  If she was feeling particularly generous, a Mamba bar for each, to goad us into silence with sugar. 

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I never had a birthday without salmon, rich hollandaise pooled atop, asparagus on the side.  Mom would draw out the sweetness of the fish with citrus rounds, and cut it with onion, sliced and sprinkled haphazardly around.  Those few nubs of butter would be scattered around atop the fish, and wine poured generously over it -- like the thick crumb of her buttery coffee cake.  A final seasoning with salt and pepper and into a preheated oven it went.  She'd spend what seemed like just a moment at the stove, cracking eggs, melting butter, squeezing more lemon, and that luscious perfectly viscous hollandaise would be ready for me to spoon over the top.  I still marvel at the ease at which she made it; I suppose she has me to credit for the practice.  

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And I have her to credit for so much else.  For giving me the courage to carve my life as I like, not as she, or anyone else wished it to be.  To look at a recipe, take notes, add, improvise, question, and take it in an entirely different direction.  But also to appreciate the simple things - like baked or poached salmon.  The good, solid recipes - or simply someone's technique, sharpened by time and good tasters.  For good, wild ingredients.  Beautiful, hook and line caught salmon, fished by someone whose care for the fish at sea and aboard shows the utmost respect- for the fish, for the sea, and for the lives of all the people and fisherman who will follow him, also hungry for fish.  

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So bake on, fry on, sear on, & poach.  Like my mother, every night avoiding boxes and mixes, reaching for clippings from the garden, salmon caught by my father, to give us a hot, nourishing, & simple, scratch cooked meal.  And when you sit down to eat, pick up your fork, and come home.  Even for a little bit, and let yourself be nourished.  Cheers to yourself, even if sometimes it seems that no one appreciates you -- they do indeed.  The evidence is on their plate- quite empty by now.  You'll be ready to pull yourself up again in no time -- just as mom intended.

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Spring Herb Slow Poached Wild Coho Salmon

This is the first of three salmon inspired recipes, perfect for spring and all the buds of green in the garden and the market.  We're blessed with easy access to world-class seafood, caught sustainably with hook and line in Alaska by Troller Point Fisheries, a family run company based on Orcas.  They flash freeze all their seafood within an hour of bringing it aboard- after tediously cleaning and carefully pressure bleeding the fish for the best quality (a method unrivaled by inferior net caught fish and farms).  They host dock sales around the region - so if you're Washington local, check them out.  If not, they'll happily ship the highest quality 10lb boxes of individually packed filets you can find anywhere, to your doorstep.  

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These recipes use the more economical Coho 'sides'.  These are whole sides of fish filet, perfect for a family or creating an impressive meal for guests.  Don't get me wrong, I have a freezer full of perfectly portioned amazing King and Coho filets, great for weeknights, but the sides are my go-to for entertaining.  You can leave them whole, or portion them out yourself into filets and use the 'extras' for other recipes (like the Coho Salmon & Chive Farm Egg Quiche I'll show you later this week).  You can also substitute wild King salmon if you like, but these are tailored for the slightly more flavorful, less fatty Coho (which means I'm shameless with the butter sauce).    

I love this recipe for its flexibility and simplicity.  It's also the perfect showcase for flawless, high quality fish.  There are no bells & whistles.  It's simple, fresh, and can be made ahead of time - making it great for entertaining.  You can be flexible with the herbs -- I used what's fresh and growing in my garden, but feel free to play around. 

Serves 4-5

3 cups water

2 bay laurel leaves (dried or fresh)

1 rib celery (preferably an inner rib with leaves)

8 sprigs mixed spring herbs (I used chervil, lemon thyme, and tarragon -- parsley is a nice substitute for the chervil if you have a hard time finding it but it does add a nice anise scent)

1 1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 lemon (juice and zest)

3/4 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning salmon

1 1/2 lbs wild Coho salmon side, skin-on (you can substitute filets)

Extra herbs for garnish.

Herbed Butter Sauce for serving (optional, recipe below)

If you have a long gratin dish that is stovetop safe, use it.  Otherwise a large dutch oven or deep fry pan will also work.  Bring water and aromatics/herbs to a boil in the pan just mentioned.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover with foil or a lid and let steep for 10 minutes.  After steeping, add wine, lemon juice, zest and salt.  Allow to cool at least another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, season the salmon with about 1/2 teaspoon flaked or semi-coarse salt and a grind of fresh pepper.  If needed, trim the salmon slightly to fit in your pan.  If you're using a side, you can shave off or trim the sinewy layer over the belly fat (or leave as is).  Any trimmings you can cook later or set it aside for a salmon scramble the next morning.

At this stage you can either proceed with cooking the fish, or refrigerate the herb stock until you're ready.  Either way, start with the stock at room temperature.  Slide the fish into the pan, skin side down, making sure it is completely covered with liquid.  If not, add additional water or wine.  If you add more than a 1/2 cup, add an extra 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  

Place the pan with stock and fish over a medium low burner (low if your stove is hot) and very slowly cook the fish - spooning liquid over the top if it becomes unsubmerged.  If you start to see white fat right off the bat, turn down the heat.  The skin helps to insulate the fish from cooking too quickly -- therefore if you are using fish without the skin, be extra careful to make sure the heat is low and cook for less time.  From the time you start the heat to the time the fish is done should be no more than 8-10 minutes (with skin) - but be careful not to overcook if your heat is strong.  Do not let the mixture boil - it should be just below a simmer by the time the fish is ready.  Keep in mind your fish will continue cooking after you turn off the heat so err on the side of undercooking.  

While the fish is resting make the butter sauce using the herb stock.  Garnish with a small handful of roughly torn herbs.  Serve with cous cous, farro salad, or roasted potatoes, and the veloute sauce on the side .   

*Fish can be made several hours or a day ahead and stored in its broth in the refrigerator.  Warm gently in the broth over the stovetop prior to serving. 

Herbed Butter Sauce    

This simple butter sauce, known as a veloute, is as easy as it gets for pan sauce.  You're making a simple butter/flour roux and whisking in the leftover stock from cooking the fish.  I figure you've already done the work making a gorgeous stock, why not max out the benefits with a sauce.  Either way, don't discard the broth -freeze it or refrigerate for a risotto or fish chowder.  

1 1/2 cup poaching liquid

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

Lemon

Reduce the poaching liquid by about half by boiling it over high heat.  Meanwhile, warm butter over medium heat in a small, separate pan, then add flour and whisk until smooth.  Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.  Slowly add the reduced stock, whisking constantly.  The sauce will thicken.  Keep adding until desired consistency is reached.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little additional stock.  Finish with a large squeeze of lemon juice and additional salt and pepper if needed (keep in mind the stock was pre-salted).  If plating the fish, serve poured atop each piece.  Otherwise I prefer to present the whole fish in its liquid and serve family style.  Put the sauce in a warmed saucer so each person can add as much or as little as they like.

 

Next up: Pan Seared Coho with Chervil Butter Sauce and Sorrel Herb Salad over Creamy Leeks

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