Tuesday, April 27, 2010

{TWD} Chockablock Cookies

This week the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group takes us back into cookie territory as we bake Chockablock Cookies. One thing I've learned as we've baked through Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours is that I love her simple recipes, evidenced by the recipe I chose when it was my turn, the Swedish Visiting Cake. So I approached this week's cookie with a bit of apprehension. Dorie calls these cookies "chockablock" because they are stuffed full of stir-ins, all held together with a molasses-rich cookie dough. Molasses is one of my very favorite ingredients, and Dorie has some pretty wonderful plain molasses cookies that we baked back in November. I had to wonder if in these cookies the molasses would be just one flavor competing with the other "chockablock" items: nuts, dried fruit, coconut and chocolate.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet chose these cookies, and you can find the recipe on her site, or on page 86 of Dorie's book.

- I made 1/3 recipe which yielded 13 cookies.

- There's a lot of flexibility in this recipe - nuts of choice (I used pecans), dried fruit of choice (mixture of currants and golden raisins for me), coconut (toasted), and chocolate pieces.

- I adore the taste of molasses, but didn't enjoyed the molasses/chocolate combination in the Chocolate Gingerbread we baked for TWD, so I left out the chocolate from my cookie dough. Once I'd formed the cookies I studded two of them with a few Ghiradelli 58% chocolate chips.

- The dough is interesting because even though there is molasses, there aren't any of the "usual suspects" in terms of spices that often accompany molasses in baked goods.

- Rather than the recipe's proportion of 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening, I used 1/3 shortening, 2/3 butter.

- My cookies spread and flattened just the right amount and were perfectly baked in 13 minutes, 30 seconds.

the verdict:

My husband and I both enjoyed the non-chocolate cookies - they were filled with textures and tastes. The cookies had nice soft interiors, chewy but tender, and pleasantly molasses-y. Rather than competing with the fruit and nut flavors, the molasses pulled them all together. I'm taking a wild guess and saying that absent the influence of "Christmas spices," the molasses became a true team player.

As for the cookies with the chocolate chips: I could eat my words, but I'd much rather eat the cookies! I enjoyed the full chockablock experience - fruit, nuts, coconut, and chocolate were all very good together. I give the credit to the molasses. And the relatively mild chocolate. I'm glad I didn't use darker chocolate, because the mellowness of this chocolate helped it fit in with the (many) other flavors.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pan Roasted Salmon with Asparagus Bundles and Cherry Tomatoes

Nothing says "Spring" quite as much as fresh new asparagus, and it's given a starring role in this Jamie Oliver recipe for Pan Roast Salmon with Green and White Asparagus, Rosemary, Wrapped in Bundles with Pancetta and Red and Yellow Cherry Tomatoes. Whew, that was a mouthful! Luckily making this dish was quite a bit easier than typing that recipe title.

n.o.e.'s notes

- Jamie Oliver evidently developed this dish for his signature line of cookware from T-FAL. I made mine in a (non-T-FAL) stovetop grill pan, and it turned out just fine.

- The cool thing about this recipe is that it's all made in one pan and the different elements cook in the same amount of time, and their flavors combine in the process.

- The combination of white and green asparagus would have been pretty in this dish but I only had the green asparagus, so that's what I used. Similarly, I used just the red variety of cherry tomatoes.

- The recipe blithely instructs "wrap each bunch up in 3 slices of pancetta to form a neat bundle." I need some sort of diagram for the wrapping technique, since mine didn't start out neat and then came unwrapped as they cooked. I think I'd use prosciutto next time and anchor it somehow.

the verdict:

Even though my asparagus bundles were a bit unruly I enjoyed learning this technique of cooking the salmon and asparagus together. I prefer the taste of roasted asparagus to steamed, and the rosemary gave a lovely flavor as it roasted, making it especially appealing. We savored every bite of this dish and will definitely make it again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

{TWD} Sweet Cream Biscuits

While I don't remember eating biscuits in my childhood (Massachusetts and New York), I began my drift southward when I was 18 and have encountered my share of good (and not-as-wonderful) biscuits in the ensuing 30+ years. Many local establishments serve them as an accompaniment for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually baked them myself. I've used my old set of fluted round cutters far more frequently for cookies than for biscuits.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- These Sweet Cream Biscuits were chosen the week for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group by Melissa of Love At First Bite. You can find the recipe by clicking here or on page 23 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

- The secret to baking light and fluffy biscuits, apparently, is to use a very light hand - lightly! I don't bake biscuits very often, so I this is the kind of information that makes me think my biscuits are doomed to hockey puck-dom. But I followed a few tips I'd read recently, and my biscuits rose pretty well and were fluffy and light.

2" cutter mysteriously missing from this set.

- When we baked Sweet Potato Biscuits for Tuesdays With Dorie back in October, I realized I had lost the ideal-sized 2" cutter from my set of what-used-to-be four scalloped cutters. To remedy the problem, at Christmas Santa brought me a wonderful set of nesting cutters, and I assumed I'd be prepared for any circular cutting exigency. Except a 2" one, apparently. The new set has 11 round cutters, but none of them happens to be the magic 2". I picked the closest (smaller) cutter for these biscuits.

Wouldn't you think, with 11 cutters from 3/4" to 3 5/8", there would be one that is 2"? Yeah, me too.

- I cut this recipe back to 1/3, which yielded 4 smallish biscuits.

- White Lily flour is sort of iconic biscuit-making flour here in the South, because it is so fine and fluffy. A couple of years back, White Lily was bought by Smuckers and the Tennessee mill was closed in favor of northern mills. As you can imagine, that triggered a good deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth (eg, here and here), as Southern bakers were pretty sure their baking would never be the same. When I heard the news, I ran out and bought some of the original flour, which I've guarded ever since, and that's what I used for this recipe. In her book Dorie gives a formula for adding extra flour in the event White Lily is used. If you weigh your flour, just use Dorie's usual standard of 4 ¾ oz for each cup of flour, no matter which brand you use.

- Instead of cane sugar, I decided to use maple sugar.

- I blended all of the dry ingredients in mini food processor before stirring in the cream w fork. I found this much easier than other biscuit recipes with butter that has to be cut or rubbed into the flour (while staying cold all the while) I didn't handle this dough with my hands at all, really, just touched the dough to confirm that it was a "soft dough", then I quickly patted - not rolled - the dough on a barely floured surface.

- From biscuit experts I've heard that when cutting biscuits it's important to push the cutter straight down and then pick it straight up - no twisting (the way I tend to do with sugar cookies). I found that I had to concentrate pretty hard on this task (really, it was challenging!) or a little twist would try to creep in.

- The biscuits rose nicely during baking, and gave off that "hot bread, time for butter" smell.

the verdict:

These biscuits were very tender and soft. My husband and I enjoyed them hot with butter and marmalade, for a wonderful Sunday afternoon snack. Thanks, Melissa, for choosing this fun recipe. It will definitely become my "go to" biscuit.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Whole Wheat Currant Bread

As much as I love to bake with yeast (and I love it enough to have started a bread blog!), I forgot how much fun it is to bake a quick bread. This Whole Wheat Currant Bread is about as quick as a quick bread can get; it's oil-based, so no messing around with softening or melting butter. The currants don't have to be washed, peeled, cooked, or chopped, just measure and stir 'em in. An added bonus to this recipe: it's a deliciously easy way to work whole grains into your diet.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This bread is from Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker. I received this book for my birthday last year - in June - and only managed to bake one recipe from it. When Phyl of Of Cabbages and Kings (@gaaarp on twitter) formed a group to bake through the book, I jumped at the chance. Well, to clarify: my jump was quick but not deep! As much as I'd love to bake every single recipe in The Modern Baker, I can't swing that kind of commitment. Luckily this group is quite relaxed and flexible - there is no participation or posting requirement. Being a member of the group will give me the incentive to dip into the book from time to time, joining the others when I can and using the resources of this excellent group as an aid to my baking. Phyl has structured the baking so that the group will spend 3 months on each of the book's four sections. Different bakers will take turns "hosting" the recipes, and this bread is the one that I chose.

- Because this is "my" recipe, I've included some process pictures, for the second time in a week! And like the Swedish Visiting Cake, this recipe is so simple that the pictures are a little superfluous.

- I baked 2/3 recipe in a smallish loaf pan.

- For whole wheat flour, I used King Arthur's Irish Style Wholemeal Flour, which is a rough textured soft whole wheat flour made from red wheat.

- The group doesn't publish the recipes from The Modern Baker, but here are the steps that I followed:

Whisk eggs with sugar and brown sugar;

then whisk in milk (I used whole milk, but you could also use buttermilk)

and oil.

With a rubber (silicone in my case) spatula, fold in a mixture of whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt,

then add currants

and fold them in.

Scrape the batter into a loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree oven.

the verdict:

The bread is sweeter than I thought it'd be, which comes mostly from the currants. The flour I used gave the bread a nice rustic platform, and I could taste the brown sugar's molasses flavor. But the currants, it's really their show, and they perform admirably. My favorite way to eat this bread was toasted, hot with butter.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

{TWD} Swedish Visiting Cake

When my daughter JDE came home from college two summers ago a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours soon appeared on my kitchen counter. In quick succession she baked the Perfect Party Cake (which she wrote up as a guest post on my blog) and then the Tarte Noire (which has not yet been chosen as a TWD recipe but is, by the way, indulgently delicious).

She mentioned that a group of food bloggers were baking their way through the book and pointed me to the Tuesdays With Dorie site. I was hooked! I joined the TWD baking group in July 2008, becoming the 200-and-something-th member of the group. I've baked along every single week since I joined - this is my 90th TWD weekly post. I have learned many baking techniques, conquered some fears (cough, cough, caramel, cough) and have enjoyed myself immensely.

When I opened the covers of Baking for the first time, the recipe that immediately appealed to me was the Swedish Visiting Cake on page 197. It looked straightforward and inviting. Even the name was homey and welcoming. Of course a cake that looked this good would be have to be made with almond, one of my favorite flavors. I vowed on the spot that I would choose this cake if it were still available when my turn rolled around, although I couldn't imagine that it would happen.

Time went on, and as things go in this kind of group, bakers came and went, so I've moved up the list and my turn to choose a recipe came much sooner than originally estimated. Lo and behold: the Swedish Visiting Cake was still available! Although my head was turned just a bit by some of the flashier recipes in Dorie's book, I stayed true to my original resolve and chose the Visiting Cake.

This one was baked in an 8" cast iron skillet
n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you want to bake the cake - and you should - I've included the recipe at the end of this post, see below. But you truly should bake many more of Dorie's wonderful recipes, so you'll be well served to buy your very own copy of the book.

- Dorie Greenspan has written about the Swedish Visiting Cake on her blog and it's worth a visit there to check out this and other wonderful treats that she features. About this cake Dorie says:

Making the cake just now reminded me for the nine-millionth time why baking is so dear to me: it is a pleasure that engages all your senses. In the 10 minutes it took me to get the mixture into my old cast-iron skillet, I rubbed sugar and zest between my fingers, watched a batter grow from thick and dull to lithe and shiny, caught the fragrance of lemon, vanilla and almond and had the satisfaction of knowing that I was making something completely by hand and that it would be something others would soon enjoy.

The fact that the house will smell like butter, sugar and vanilla for hours is just a happy extra.
- Dorie also posted a Swedish Apple version of this cake in her column for Serious Eats. I fully intended to bake that variation and include it in this post, but I couldn't bear to stray from the original recipe (it was just that good!)

- I LOVE that this cake requires just one bowl, one pan, and very few other dirty dishes. No mixer, no creaming of butter. "You're welcome," fellow TWD bakers!

- In an effort to be a good hostess this week, I took "process pictures" of each stage of the cake-making (well, nearly), but this cake is so easy that photos are not really necessary (although I did include them, below). If you can stir with a spoon, you've got this cake made.

- The cake has no leavening, and the eggs are not beaten, so it doesn't really rise. As a result it ends up with a distinctively dense and chewy texture.

- I baked this cake twice. First I made 3/4 recipe in my 8" cast iron skillet. (If you go to the P&Q for the Visiting Cake on the TWD site, I posted the ingredient amounts for 3/4 recipe.) I used 1 duck egg and 1 bantam hen egg, which came out to the perfect weight for the scaled recipe. I order these unusual eggs, along with regular chicken eggs, from my farm box, so I always have a variety of egg sizes on hand for recipes. If I do end up with extra egg parts from my baking activities, I usually throw them into my next batch of scrambled eggs.

- The second time, I baked this cake in my 10" non-stick skillet, and made 1 1/4 recipe. (This cake is the one pictured at the beginning of this blog post. The math for scaling the recipe up is on the P&Q post) I served this cake, along with a David Lebovitz chocolate flourless cake, to my book group.

- Dorie says that this cake is best eaten the day it is made, and she is, of course, right. However, if you should find yourself with some leftover Swedish Visiting Cake, you might agree with me that it's quite acceptable on the second or even the third day.

Adding a little "Swedish color": a red IKEA potholder

the verdict:

It was quite fitting that my daughter JDE was home for Spring Break when I baked this cake, since she got the TWD ball rolling around here in the first place. One taste of Swedish Visiting Cake, and she said "Oh man. This is good."

I was also glad to be able to share the cake with my book group. The members have tasted and evaluated over half of the TWD desserts. The group is filled with great cooks and I value their honest opinions about the baked goods (well, and about the books we read also!) Reviews were quite positive about the cake, although it was a tiny bit overshadowed by the showier chocolate cake that I also served.

The Visiting Cake was all that I'd hoped for, and more. Simple but not boring. Substantial in texture and subtle in flavor. The lemon was a background player and the almond more up front. The cake reminded me somewhat of a big chewy (almond-flavored) sugar cookie.

The recipe is extremely quick and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy the finished product since the flavorings are optional and can be customized to individual tastes (although I'll be visiting all of the TWD bakers' blogs so I'll get to find out!)

Thanks so much to everyone who baked along with me!

the recipe:

Swedish Visiting Cake

from Baking, From My Home to Yours

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan or even a pie pan.

Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts.

Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour.

Finally, fold in the melted butter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.

Of course I forgot to take a picture of the cake in the pan BEFORE I popped it in the oven. Here's a very blurry picture of the cake IN the oven; I made it reeeeally small so the lack of focus won't hurt your eyes as much
Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate. [I was too chicken to turn the cake out, so served it both times from the skillets]

One reason I don't take "process pictures" more often: the need to keep an eye on the doggies to make sure the food survives the photo shoot! Meet Bro, our new rescue Australian Shepherd.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Avocado Mango Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

My extended family has gotten in the tradition of eating a simple Mexican meal on Christmas Eve, centered on a chicken soup that my sister-in-law orders from our favorite local Mexican restaurant, Taqueria del Sol's catering department. I offered to bring salad because I was dying to make Rick Bayless' Avocado Mango Salad from his book, Mexican Everyday. (I highly recommend this cookbook)

Although I first tried this recipe on Christmas Eve, the good news is that it is not wintry at all, making it a perfect salad for any time of the year. I've made it a half dozen times since December, and I'm always thrilled to have the ingredients on hand in my fridge.

- You can find the recipe online here or here.

- To make this a quicker, you can use bagged butter lettuce, and even pre-sliced fresh mango. Frozen mango is a bit too watery when it thaws, I found. If you cook bacon lardons ahead of time, you can keep them in the freezer and pull them out to sprinkle on the salad as needed.

- For a vegetarian version, you can replace the bacon with caramelized onions.

- You might want to taste the jalapeno before using it; the ones from the market seem to vary greatly in heat. After tasting, you can decide how much or how little to use to suit your tastes. I've made the dressing with milder and hotter peppers, and it's good both ways, although I prefer when it has a bit of a kick to it.

- The dressing is a tiny bit of work, because you brown the whole garlic cloves and whole pepper in the oil before tossing it in a blender it with the rest of the ingredients. But if you make a double batch of the dressing, you can keep it in the fridge for salads all week!

- If you have an immersion blender, it works well for the dressing, and saves on the cleanup over using a full blender.

- Rather than the cheese mentioned in the recipe, I always use goat cheese in the salad, sometimes a local goat cheese from my farm box that's coated with hot Southwestern spices.

the verdict:

This is my new favorite salad! I love the way that the savory, creamy, salty, and sweet flavors combine, all tied together with the smoky, slightly spicy dressing. The salad is not aggressively "Mexican," so it's versatile enough to accompany any kind of main course. I've even eaten it as leftovers (already dressed) 2 days later, and still enjoyed it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Racines Chocolate Flourless Cake

David Lebovitz is possibly my favorite person to follow on Twitter. Tweets from this Californian-turned-Parisian pastry chef are witty, irreverent, and unfailingly interesting. But there's more to David than his ability to generate entertaining 140-character soundbites. He's a fine baker of sweets, and a visit to his blog, or a dip into one of his books will lead you on a delectable adventure. (His ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, which comes out in paperback in May, is a treasure trove of traditional and adventurous frozen concoctions).

Imagine my excitement when I heard that David was writing a new cookbook - essentially his "greatest hits" collection! The book is called Ready for Dessert; My Best Recipes - and I was sure it would be perfect. The book was released three days ago, and even before the UPS truck arrived in my driveway with my very own copy (it came just after lunchtime today), I baked one of the book's recipes. On Facebook yesterday (you too can become a David Lebovitz Facebook fan) David shared a link that brought me face-to-computer screen with a beautiful chocolate flourless cake. I printed the recipe, went to the kitchen, baked the cake and served it to my book group last evening.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe where I did, here.

- I'm always thrilled to add a gluten-free recipe to my baking repertory.

- I made 3/4 recipe in an 8" springform pan.

- The chocolate I used was Callebaut Bittersweet.

- I added two pinches of salt, not enough to make the cake taste salty, but to give the flavor a little punch.

- The recipe calls for 1T of freshly brewed espresso, which sounds wonderful, but that's a lot of work for a tablespoon of coffee. Instead I used 1 tsp instant espresso dissolved in a bit of water.

- The optional cacao nibs on the top look great and add a wonderfully intense chocolate crunch to the cake.

- Watch this one when it's in the oven. I checked mine at 18 minutes and it was already done.

- I ran a knife around the pan when the cake was hot, then came back a few minutes later to find that the cake had shrunk. A lot. I think this was more an asthetic difference, but in the future I'd let the cake cool first, then run the knife and remove it from the pan.

- I served the cake with unsweetened whipped cream. David mentions orange flower water scented whipped cream, which sounds delicious, but I was in hurry to get the cake out the door, so didn't take the time to experiment with the flavored whipped cream - my tasters had to suffer with the standard stuff.

the verdict:

I'm very glad that I hurried to bake this cake - it was velvety smooth with a deep, dark chocolate flavor and a wonderful crunch from the nibs on top. One of my tasters said, "This is like chocolate mousse." Another taster suggested sweetened whipped cream, so next time I'll take the time to experiment with the flavored (or at least sweetened) whipped cream.

Make this cake for the chocolate-lovers in your life - or for yourself! And buy the book, too - now that I've had a chance to page through it I can say that you won't be sorry.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

{TWD} Mocha Walnut Marble Bundt Cake

A marbled bundt cake might be the perfect "take-along" cake. No frosting is required, so transport is a breeze. But it's far from plain - it carries it own decoration -the marble pattern - tucked safely inside. The marbling dresses up the cake, making it look a lot more difficult than it really is. What's more, a full bundt recipe makes a cake big enough to feed a small army. And a bundt nearly always tastes great.

This week's Tuesday With Dorie recipe is the Mocha Walnut Marble Bundt Cake, and it was an ideal dessert to bring along to my book group meeting two weeks ago.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Erin of When in Doubt…Leave it at 350 (her blog name contains such good baking advice!) chose the cake for us to bake this week. Her blog post will have the recipe, or you can find it on pages 180 and 181 of the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

- Walnuts have become a favorite of mine. I wanted to amp up the walnut flavor, so I toasted the walnuts before grinding them as fine as my food processor would grind and I substituted 2T of walnut oil for 2T of the butter in the cake.

- Dorie specifies a bundt pan with a 12 cup capacity, but the batter would definitely fit in a 10-cup pan.

- The recipe is a bit fussy, requiring ground walnuts, chopped chocolate, brewed coffee AND espresso powder, in addition to the usual suspects: room temperature butter and eggs. It was a three bowl process, along with a mixer, food processor, miscellaneous measuring cups/spoons, knife, cutting board, etc.

- Dorie gives directions for a marble pattern that ends up resembling a ginko leaf. First you put all of the light batter in the pan, then the dark. Finally, you sparingly draw a knife through the batters. I was a little bit worried about my marbling, but it turned out to be pretty.

- I buttered my bundt pan, which is dark coated, then dusted it with Wondra flour, a tip I picked up from of the cake goddess Rose Levy Beranbaum. (although I'm pretty sure that Beranbaum coats her pans with melted shortening and then Wondra.) My cake released beautifully and looked tight and smooth. One thing that I always do when the cake is still warm in the pan is to loosen the cake along the pan's ridges using a cheap plastic picnic knife. Works like a charm!

the verdict:

The cake turned out "moist but not gooey" in the words of one of my tasters. It received positive reviews from all of the adults who tried it at book group (unfortunately several of us gave up sweets for Lent, so we couldn't partake). The best review? From the host couple's 8th grade son, who told me he enjoyed "4 or 5 pieces" and then assured me, "The cake is beast!"

A "beast" bundt? It really is a perfect cake.

Tune in next week, when it's my turn to host Tuesdays With Dorie - the recipe I chose is Swedish Visiting Cake!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers

Although spinach is in the local grocery store on a year-round basis, when I think of Spring, I have images of baby spinach leaves. Now that Spring weather has finally arrived around here (it came for a few days last week before Summer's heat rudely pushed it out of the way) it's a perfect time for a lovely supper of Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I found this Rick Bayless recipe in his cookbook Mexican Everyday, which I bought at his restaurant Topolobampo when we visited Chicago a few months ago (The meal at Topolo was one of the best I've ever eaten). I've included the recipe at the end of this post, below.

- Bayless' directions are clear and precise, and his recipes' times and temperatures are always spot-on.

- I used a bit less spinach and it was fine.

- I happened to have 3 poblano peppers, so I roasted all of them. My sauce didn't seem very green with two peppers, so I threw in the third one. I think my peppers must have been on the smallish side.

the verdict:

This was a subtle and delicious way to eat salmon. The recipe is easy enough for a weekday (when we enjoyed it) and special enough for company.

the recipe:

Salmon con Espinacas en Crema Verde
serves 4


2 fresh poblano chiles
10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups) [I used a 6 ounce bag, steamed in microwave for 1 minute 45 seconds on high]
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 to 2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn "flour" for making tortillas--look for it in well-stocked groceries)[I keep this flour on hand for making tamales]
1 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more if needed
4 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1G pounds total) skinless salmon fillets (snapper, halibut, and catfish are also good)
Salt and ground black pepper


1. Roast the poblanos over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let cool until handleable.

2. Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) until completely wilted, usually about 2 minutes. (If your spinach comes in a microwaveable bag, simply microwave it in the bag.) Uncover (or open the bag) and set aside.

3. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the garlic into a blender. Set the skillet aside.

4. Rub the blackened skin off the chiles and pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse the chiles to remove bits of skin and seeds. Roughly chop and add to the blender, along with the masa harina and milk. Blend until smooth.

5. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the hot oil and cook until richly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fillets, and cook until the fish barely flakes when pressed firmly with a finger or the back of a spoon (you want it slightly underdone), usually a couple of minutes longer for fish that's about 1 inch thick. Using the spatula, transfer the fish to an ovenproof plate and set in the oven.

6. With the skillet still over medium-high, pour in the poblano mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, whisk in a little more milk. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous H teaspoon. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir until it is warm and well coated with sauce.

7. Divide the creamy spinach among four plates. Top each portion with a piece of seared fish. (Or, if it appeals to you more, spoon the sauce over the fillets.) Serve without delay.