Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Know You're in Alaska When...

Women in jeans and opera-worthy fur coats at the grocery store are one of those quintessentially Alaskan sights. Then there is the backlog of seafood given to us by friends in my parent's freezer. I've been having fun with salmon this week. I'm afraid that the recipes I'm about to relay are not cheap as written, unless you have friends with salmon fishing "problems". (One can explore canned salmon for example.) On the other hand, both of them do use leftovers.

I served the salmon cakes, along some bean soup and salad, to friends who came over for a Scrabble game.

Salmon Cakes with Feta

vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion (or one medium onion)
1 1/2-ish pounds salmon "burger meat" -- that is the skinned trimmings from filets and steaks. One could use a filet, but that seems like overkill. If you don't happen to have a pound or two of salmon odds and ends, I would definitely explore the canned option. Or one could use cheaper fish (and a different cheese).
3 slices of bread, crusts cut off
1/2 a cup of milk
OR a cup and a half of leftover mashed potatoes (Which is what I used -- making these cakes friendly for people with wheat issues)
2 tsp dried dill or 2 Tbsp fresh
a dash of garlic powder
A squeeze of lemon juice, salt, ground black pepper, cayenne to taste
Chunks of feta

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté untill golden, stir them every few minutes to prevent burning. This will take somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen minutes.

If one does not have leftover mashed potatoes, tear up the bread into small chunks and place it in a small bowl with the milk, and let it soak for five minutes while you're doing other things.

While the bread is soaking and the onions turning golden, you will be breaking up the fish witha fork. When it's the consistency of tuna salad, wring out the bread, and add it along with the onions, the egg, the lemon juice, and other seasonings. (If you aren't using bread and milk, obviously you just skip the whole rigamorale and dump in the mashed potatoes.)

Form the salmon mixture into patties roughly four inches across. Layer on a large plate using waxed paper to separate the layers, and refrigerate for an hour to give them time to set up. (I think I ended up with eleven cakes last time.) In an emergency one can skip the chilling, but the cakes are more annoying than necessary to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350. (Or not, these are nice fried.)

If one is going to bake the cakes one ought to bake them for twenty five minutes, turning them at the mid-point and sprinkling them with a layer of feta.

Or one can fry them in oil at four minutes a side. Or one can bake them half way and finish them by frying.

Either way, they are tasty either by themselves, or as part of a sandwich.

Two apiece for adults seems to be the right number, if one is not serving them as sandwiches. If I were serving them as sandwiches, I would serve them in pita bread with tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki, or tahini and humus, or mayo if I didn't feel like making the former, and didn't have tahini and humus in the house.

After the night of Scrabble and salmon cakes, I had a cake left over. This evening I was rummaging through the kitchen in search of dinner for my parents and I. I found the salmon cake and some whole wheat pasta and the feta again. The result was uncommonly tasty.

Baked Penne with Salmon and Tomatoes

1 cup-ish whole wheat penne pasta or other suitable pasta, which is to say that members of the fettucini and spaghetti families are out.
2/3 cup milk or cream (I used 1%, but it would have been better with whole milk, and decadent with cream)
1 or 2 eggs (I used 1, but in retrospect I wished I'd used 2, especially with 1% milk)
1 1/2 - 2 tsp dried dill -- it so happens that I really like dill, if you don't-- a mixture of tarragon, oregano, and parsley, or any of them singly would be delish too. Mint also has its possibilities if one is feeling adventurous.
a couple of drops of hot sauce -- optional
a dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp tomato paste (tomato paste in tubes is one of the better inventions of the twentieth century)
1/2 c minced onion
3/4 c finely diced tomatoes
1 leftover salmon cake (or other deck of cards sized piece of flavorful fish -- one could use rather less smoked salmon if one had that on hand)
1 c grated extra sharp cheddar -- may I recommend the Tillamook?
1 c feta

Preheat the oven to 350

Prepare the pasta according to the directions, especially if it's whole wheat pasta. I like normal pasta al dente. Whole wheat pasta al dente is like unto sawdust. This dish is not liquid enough to cover any pasta deficiencies, so go ahead and cook the whole wheat pasta for 13 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, butter a medium size gratin dish.

Mix together everything on the ingredients list from the milk to the tomato paste. It will take some concerted beating to get the tomato paste to incorporate. Oh well.

Chop up the tomato and onion. You might mix them together, or even mix them together with the crumbled fish. Yes, you want to crumble the fish. There is not a lot of fish in the dish and you want the flavor to get around.

When the pasta is drained, spread half of it in a thin layer across the bottom of the baking dish.
Cover that layer with the tomatoes, onions, salmon, and half of the cheeses. Cover this layer with the other half of the pasta. Spread on the rest of the cheese. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the mound of goodness.

Bake for forty minutes, or until everything is bubbly and not too liquid.

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