Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Salmon Burgers for the Big Game

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Well, the holidays are over but the football bowl games aren’t. That’s not something that really meant much to me in the past but now I have a new husband who first likes to watch football, and secondly loves as much as I do to have folks come and share various landmark experiences with us. Not that, in my mind, football is a landmark experience, but then I’m not a guy.

Some things are pretty well a given at these gatherings. Rotel-cheese dip with tortilla chips. Chicken wings. Little cocktail wienies in some sort of sauce. Finger sandwiches. Celery stuffed with pimiento cheese. You know what I mean.

But at some point the host has to come up with some real food. Usually it’s burgers on the grill, or something bought from the BBQ joint down the road.

Here’s what we’re going to have for the big game on New Year’s Day: salmon burgers. Easy, tasty and good for you (don’t tell the guys about that part). I do them with fresh salmon from the supermarket but it’s easy enough to substitute canned if you pick through and toss skin and bones. You’ll need one large can of salmon.

And you know how I am about doing things ahead. So make them completely ahead, stash covered in the fridge, and reheat on a baking sheet in the oven when you’re ready to serve.
I will use bell peppers and arugula as the garnish, but there’s no reason you can’t use lettuce and tomato, and you’ll still have a great burger.

How cute would these be if you made them into mini-burgers and used Sister Shubert rolls from the supermarket freezer. Salmon sliders!


1 lb fresh salmon, skin, bones removed, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beathen
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup onion, finely minced
¼ cup white raisins, finely minced
1 tbsp dried dill weed
Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 c Vegetable oil
½ cup mayonnaise
Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp finely minced cilantro
6 Kaiser rolls
One each red and yellow bell peppers, cut into rings
Arugula or fresh spinach

Combine the salmon, egg, 3/4 of bread crumbs, mayonnaise, onion, raisins, dill, lemon zest and juice, and cumin. Form into 6 patties and coat in the remaining crumbs. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Fry the burgers, turning once, until golden, about 8 minutes total. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
Meanwhile, combine all sauce ingredients. At serving time, place a layer of greens on the bottom of the roll. Top with the warm salmon burger, then with the pepper rings and drizzle generously with the sauce. Serve at once.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

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The Italians are big on Christmas traditions. There are several traditional sweets for the holiday season. One is panettone, a yeast-raised cake with raisins and citron in it. It might be served toasted with breakfast tea or coffee, or slathered with mascarpone cheese and served with Marsala wine in the afternoon, or after dinner, with a glass of spumante wine.

There are many legends about the origin of panettone (as, it seems, there are about many Italian traditional foods). The most common cites a baker named Toni, who had a beautiful daughter. A young man who worked for Toni wanted to marry her. In an attempt to impress the father, the young man created a special sweet bread filled with fruits. The bread made Toni's bakery famous. People began to call the bread "pan ad Toni" or Toni's bread. Of course, he allowed the young man to marry his daughter.

Although they are usually available in specialty food markets only around the holiday season, I buy a few extra to keep, because a panettone makes the best bread pudding you’ll ever have. I like to make it in individual ramekins, as you see in the picture. They come out of the oven puffed and brown and fragrant. But it can also be made in a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole. Either way, it’s a very moist dessert and needs no sauce.

I love it with either amaretto or Grand Marnier as the liqueur, but I have a friend who made it with hazelnut liqueur and loved it. If you’d rather not use the liqueur, substitute either a teaspoon of almond extract, or the finely grated zest of an orange. It will still be a wonderful ending to your holiday meal, and any leftovers will be great warmed over for brunch the next day.


1 panettone (17.5 oz.)
8 eggs
½ cup sugar
3 cups half-and-half
1 large pinch kosher or sea salt
2 tbsp. amaretto or Grand Marnier
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the paper off the panettone and trim off the darkest outsides. Cut the remaining cake into ½" cubes.
In a large bowl, with a wire whisk, beat the eggs with the sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the half-and-half until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the liqueur and vanilla.
Butter ten to twelve 6-ounce ramekins and add the panettone cubes. Divide the egg mixture among them and let set for at least a half hour at room temperature, or up to two hours.
Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted near the center comes out clean. For the souffle effect, serve immediately from the ramekins. If you prefer, let them rest until time for dessert (they will deflate a bit) and unmold onto serving plates.
If you prefer to make it in one casserole, baking time will be about 45 to 50 minutes, but it will need to set at least ten minutes before you cut it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Farmers' Market Day at the Ferry Building

We went back to the Ferry Building on a Farmers' Market day. I think no commentary is necessary. Our Memphis downtown farmers' market is wonderful, but still....

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More San Francisco Ferry Building!

They meant it when they said "salted pig parts." All kinds of salami, salumi, hams, prosciutto. Most sounded good. There was blood sausage...Although I think of myself as an adventurous eater, there are some things I just can't bring myself to eat.

Cowgirl Creamery had a booth. We've carried a few of their cheeses off and on, both at Mantia's and now at Lucchesi's but their display and samples made me want to bring in every single one of them!

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Inside the San Francisco Ferry Building

I'm a little late in posting some of the amusing things we did and saw on our honeymoom last month. We wandered through the ferry building as we were waiting for a ferry to Sausalito, on a day that wasn't a farmers' market day. Another post will show great things we saw when we went back another day!
The seafood shop had these wonderful looking raw oysters. You could buy a few dozen to take home to share with friends, or just buy a couple to slurp down with lemon or cocktail sauce as you shop.
You just don't see fresh crabs in a tank at the local Memphis Kroger store...or almost anywhere else in Memphis (other than a couple of good Oriental markets far from my house) for that matter!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Chile Tuna Sauce with Ravioli

In last week's Commercial Appeal, my column gave a great recipe for a yummy tuna sauce recipe on goat cheese ravioli. There's an easier way to do it, and here it is. Just mix Lucchesi's Tomato-Basil Sauce with a can of Safcol tuna in sweet chile sauce and voila!
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Have I lost my restaurant picking touch?

For our first dinner in San Francisco, we took a chance at Fisherman's Wharf. I mean where else would you expect fine seafood? Most of the places looked very touristy (What else would you expect from a tourist destination?). Unfortunately I listened to the advice of a non-resident and we went to Sabella & LaTorre. About the only good thing about it was the attentive service. All meals came with either clam chowder or shrimp salad. We both chose the salad, and it came as you see, topped with a scoop of tiny mushy bay shrimp, half a cherry tomato and a couple of juliennes of pickled beets.On the good side, I asked for Italian dressing and got an obviously house-made vinaigrette with light herbs and a very good quality red wine vinegar.

Tom ordered "Garlic Shrimp and Crab." It came steamed, and while it looked fairly appetizing, it had been steamed way too long. Both the texture and the taste suffered as a result.

Mine, however, was a the totally big-time major disappointment. I got the special "Seafood Express." It was billed as "Sauteed Crablegs, Prawns and Scallops." I asked what it was sauteed in and the server said "garlic butter sauce." That sounded okay to me, so I went with it. You may not be able to see from the picture, but it came in an umpleasant viscous sauce that tasted neither of butter nor garlic. And there was no taste of seafood in any of the components. Both our meals were $29.95. I've gotten better seafood for way less at Captain D's in Memphis!
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Friday, October 09, 2009

Goat Cheese-Vegetable Lasagne

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On that first cold, gray, rainy day we had last Sunday, friends were coming to help do a little fixing-up for me at my house. I had promised to make dinner, planning to grill out but the weather put a stop to that. Comfort food, that’s what we needed on a day like that, so I made lasagne.

I had seen a recipe on a French language blog that gave me a starting point but as usual, I had my own ideas of what I wanted it to taste like.

This takes a little more work than I usually ask of you, and dirties a lot of prep bowls, but you can do it well ahead, even the day before, and have a perfectly clean kitchen by the time you want to pop it into the oven. I see no reason why it couldn’t even be frozen, but you’d had to thaw it completely in the fridge before baking.


9 lasagne noodles
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 leeks, white and pale green parts, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 bulb fennel, white part only, thinly sliced (save some of the fronds for garnish)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
3 tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
8 oz fresh (soft) goat cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. basil pesto
½ cup grated Italian cheese mix

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Cook the lasagne noodles in plenty of salted boiling water for about 6 minutes. Drain and lay flat on a kitchen towel until ready to use.

In a large heavy skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally for a couple of minutes. Add zucchini, toss to combine with the leeks, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving as much butter as possible.

In the same skillet, add two more tablespoons of the butter, and one tablespoon water. Add the bell pepper and fennel. Toss to coat with butter, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring twice. Uncover and sauté until water is evaporated. Remove to another bowl with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining butter to the pan. When melted, whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly for two minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly until thickened (it will be fairly thin). Add salt and half the goat cheese crumbled into chunks. Whisk until cheese is melted and set aside.

Combine ricotta and pesto in a small bowl.

Assemble the lasagne: Butter a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish. Coat the bottom with ¼ cup cheese sauce. Put in a layer of three noodles and spread with half the ricotta mixture (it will be a thin layer). Add the zucchini-leek mixture. Crumble half the remaining goat cheese evenly over the top and drizzle with ½ cup cheese sauce. Top with three more noodles, the rest of the ricotta, the bell pepper-fennel mixture, the remaining goat cheese and another ½ cup of the cheese sauce. Top with the final three noodles, the remaining cheese sauce and the grated Italian cheese mixture.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. Remove from the oven and let set 15-20 minutes. Cut into squares and serve, garnished with the reserved fennel fronds. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTES: I keep pesto in the fridge most of the time. You can buy tubes of pesto in specialty markets that would work beautifully for this. The kind that comes in jars also works well. You can grate your own cheese, or find a pre-grated Italian cheese mixture of asiago, fontina and parmesan in the dairy department of your supermarket.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cute and Tasty Baby Heirlooms!

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On the way back from the beach, we stopped at the newish Trader Joe's in Nashville. Regrettably, we had no cooler, and in fact almost no space in the car since we were bringing a friend of Tom's daughter back to Memphis.

One of the things I always look for at Trader Joe's is the "Two Buck Chuck" which usually isn't two bucks anymore. Contrary to many an urban legend, these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine by a valued TJ's supplier. They’ve become the nation’s best-selling wines, not surprising when you consider the combination of low price ($1.99 - $3.49 per bottle, depending on the region) and great taste Charles Shaw wines offer. Depending on the season and the quality of wine available, our selection of Charles Shaw varietals will vary. I try to pick up a bottle, take it home and taste it, and see if I want to buy more. Of course, due to Tennessee laws, they can't sell wine there, but there was still a wonderful selection of fruits and vegetables.

The picture is of a box of heirloom baby tomatoes. I could just manage to squeeze that, and a couple of chutneys, into the back seat of the car. For last night's dinner, I cut them in half, marinated them with some sherry wine vinegar and olive oil, and served them on some greens. YUMMY. I'm guessing something similar might be available at either Whole Foods or Fresh Market, and I intend to go looking for them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Hour at the Beach

We've just come back from a week in a beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We filled a 5 bedroom house with family so it was a little hectic. Tom and I found a great little place, Cafe 12, just a couple of blocks from our house in Avon, on Cape Hattaras. From 4 PM to 6 PM they had great spicy steamed shrimp for $.19 each. We could have a lovely quiet time and chow down as well. We didn't eat any meals there but they had great looking dishes coming out from the back to a full house about the time we vacated the bar each afternoon.
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Sunday, August 09, 2009

They don't know how to spell "Elvis" in Philadelphia!

We are so sorry to be missing the Elvis Tribute Week in Memphis!

Summer Tomato-Peach Salad

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A couple of weeks ago, in the New York Times, Mark Bittman, one of my favorite food writers, had a story titled "101 Simple Salads for the Season." They were brief descriptions, not recipes, but certainly adequate for a reasonably competent home cook to put together something tasty.
Several appealed to me (and you’ll probably hear about some of them later this summer) but one just called my name. His formula: "Mix wedges of tomato and peaches, add slivers of red onion, a few red pepper flakes and cilantro. Dress with olive oil and lime juice. Astonishing." I had to make it, or at least my version of it.

I had a couple of white peaches that were perfectly ripened, not too soft but still very fragrant. I also had several heirloom tomatoes I’d picked up at the farmers’ market. It was a wonderful salad and beautiful as well. It would make a perfect accompaniment to almost any grilled meat or seafood. You absolutely must try it. If you are one of those who cannot abide cilantro, fresh basil would make a lovely substitute.

Bittner’s Summer Salad (Alyce’s Version)

3 peaches, barely ripe (make sure they’re freestone)
3-4 perfectly ripe tomatoes, preferably multicolored
½ small red onion, cut into slivers
1 bunch cilantro, washed and dried
3 limes
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
A couple of heads of your favorite salad green, washed, and chopped if needed

Peel the peaches and cut into thin wedges. Wash and core the tomatoes and cut them into similar sized wedges. Place in a bowl with the onion and about half the cilantro leaves, very finely minced. Wash the limes, dry them and finely grate the zests into a small bowl. Add their juice, the honey and the mustard and whisk well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and add salt and pepper if you think you need it. It may seem a bit tart at this point but it will go perfectly with the sweet peaches. Pour about half of the dressing over the salad Toss well and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so, or refrigerate up to several hours. To serve, divide the salad greens among 6 plates and top with the salad. Garnish with the remaining cilantro leaves, unchopped. Pass the remaining dressing at the table. Serves six as a side salad.

NOTE: I think I would love this with some chilled, cooked shrimp added as a main course salad for four.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Delicious Dinner in Knoxville

We're off to the beach for a whole week. I can't remember the last time I took a whole week for a vacation. It's been at least 5 years.

We're going to the Outer Banks on Cape Hattaras. On the way we stopped at my sister Cindy''s house for the night, and to hook up with Tom's daughter, Lisa, who was in summer school at UT.

For dinner we decided to go out instead of cooking, and we wanted someplace close to her house. Tom had been to Puleo's Grille before and Cindy agreed with him that it would be a good place for our evening meal.

The menu was broad and quite affordably priced. Everything was good but I got the best dinner: citrus marinated grilled grouper with caprese salad. The tomatoes were local and perfectly ripe, the mozzarella fresh and moist, the balsamic vinaigrette on the salad was great. The fresh basil came from the herb garden that was growing out behind the restaurant. The grouper was delicious.

I think this is only a local Knoxville chain, but for a casual and affordable meal, I recommend it.
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Monday, August 03, 2009

Smack them crabs and eat 'em!

I don't know how the experience has escaped me for so long, but I had my first experience with whole steamed crabs...I finally did. We were in D.C. for a family emergency, but on our last night managed to get out to the Quarterdeck in Arlington, VA. Boy! Did we have good crabs. What you see is what was ordered for four: two dozen. When we reserved, we asked for jumbo sized but they had already been spoken for, as had the large size. These mediums were pretty good sized, so I can only imagine what the jumbo ones would be. For the uninitiated, they pour them on the brown-paper covered table, and all you have is drawn butter, vinegar, a wooden mallet apiece and a giant heap of paper towels.

The bottom picture is what was left after we'd done all the damage we could: three crabs remaining unsmacked (thank goodness we didn't get the jumbos, right?) and the last of several buckets of crab shells and claws hauled away by the waiter. What I'm not showing is the white tee shirt I had on. And for a very good reason: it was covered with little crab splashes from top to bottom.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Salmon Mousse

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I saw a dozen adorable little fish molds at an estate sale, and of course I just had to have them. They sat in my cabinet for months, along with all the other odds and ends of cookware that seemed essential at the time I bought them.

Then it was my turn to bring a plated first course to one of my cooking group dinners. Rummaging around I came across the molds, and thought "Aha, salmon mousse!"

This is an extremely easy recipe, and is one of the best salmon mousses you'll ever taste. As a first course, served as I did, garnished with cucumbers, capers and triangles of dark pumpernickel, it serves 6. It also makes a wonderful brunch main course, served on a bed of lettuce with a creamy dill dressing. Then you would need to double the recipe to serve 6. For the dressing, stir a sprinkling of dill weed and a squeeze of lemon juice into bottled ranch dressing.

I have made it with smoked salmon, and it is delicious. You'll need a good quality smoked salmon to make it work, and that can be a bit pricey. Still for a special occasion, it is indeed worth it.


1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 1/4 lb skinless, boneless salmon filets
1 teaspoon chicken broth concentrate or bouillon granules (see note)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
4 green onions, with part of the green top, chopped
1 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Juice and finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Ground white pepper to taste

In a skillet just large enough to hold the filets in one layer, bring the wine, water, lemon slices and peppercorns to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the salmon, cover, and simmer 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness, or until just barely done though.
Remove the salmon filets to a plate and set aside. Bring the liquid back up to a simmer and pour one cup into a glass measure. Pour immediately into a food processor and add the chicken concentrate. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top, cover and process for about a minute. Add the reserved salmon, onions, dill weed, mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, and cream. Process just to blend, about 30 seconds. Taste and add salt and white pepper as desired.
Pour into one four-cup mold, or six 1/2-cup ramekins and chill until set, at least 6 hours. Can be made up to 12 hours ahead.

NOTE: I use Better Than Bouillon chicken stock paste. It comes in a jar and is widely available. It's not as salty as bouillon cubes or granules. If you want to leave out the chicken for dietary preferences, vegetable broth paste or granules work equally well. If making this with smoked salmon, use one cup of water, heated to a simmer, for the liquid.

Okay, so I'm sorry...

I have gotten a number of e-mails, and several phone calls, chastising me for having so badly neglected my blog since the closing of Mantia's.

I plead totally guilty as charged, and promise to try to make it up to you. In case you aren't familiar with my latest life events, here's a quick summary: I closed Mantia's after 12 great years at the end of November, 2008. I needed to be out by December 31, but in the middle of December my mother passed away and I was gone for a week. So I locked the doors at Mantia's for the last time on January 7 and showed up at Lucchesi's at 8:00 the next morning. If you aren't familiar with Lucchesi's, you can find the website here.

If that wasn't a big enough life change, my gentleman friend Tom Price, is now my fiancé. Yes, he popped the question on a carousel in Central Park, NYC. So I'm also working on planning an October wedding.

I promise that I'll get back in the groove!