Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thanks a Lox!


So there are some things in cooking you try to make at home because you're adventurous and because you want to see if you can actually do it and have it come out right. Choux pastry, macarons and cured fish would be in this category.

From a most unlikely source I was inspired to make lox at home. I recalled from my adolescence that my mother made gravlax from scratch once, presumably inspired by the same spirit of adventure as me. I recall it involved putting the salmon in vodka and turning it daily for almost a week. As a child, I recall wondering why this dish was taking so long to be ready!

But the recipe I came across only takes 2-3 days. While flipping through a really great Thai cookbook (Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson), I saw a picture of something that looked like the lox I've been eating on my Sunday bagel my whole life.  I always thought of this iconic pickled salmon dish as a Jewish, Russian and Scandinavian specialty. So it turns out, it's not actually part of Thai cuisine, but the authors used traditional Thai spices such as lemongrass, red chili and kaffir lime leaves to make a Thai inspired version of "Gravadlax".  As it turns out, on the snowy day I decided to make this dish, I did not happen to have lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves in the house.  But I did have some of the other items, and combined them with my knowledge of the traditional gravlax flavor profile. When the dish actually turned out o.k., and looked decidedly "loxy" to boot, it was sort of a like doing a cartwheel for the first time and feeling surprised you landed on your feet---then throwing up your hands in triumph.

This version differs from traditional gravlax, in that it only utilizes a dry rub, and no liquid in the form of vodka or Aquavit is added. As the dish sits for several days, liquid from the fish leeches out into the dish. 

The preparation takes just about 15 minutes, and then you have to commit to flipping the fish over once a day for 2-3 days (I suggest 3). So, although from a distance making lox at home seems daunting, it's really quite easy. And, quite economical. You should absolutely use fresh fish, but even so, fresh salmon costs about half that per pound of store bought smoked salmon or lox (if you want to know the difference between these two click on this link). The spices are all pantry staples, and I estimate cost less than a dollar total.

I made maki sushi rolls with my fresh lox:

Remember to use a non-reactive container like Pyrex or ceramic for this dish, as it contains acidic ingredients that can react with metal over the several days it is curing.

Homemade Citrus-Ginger Lox
 (adapted from Salmon Marinated with Thai Spices, Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Bastyra, et. al., p. 163 ,)

1 1/2 pounds of tail piece (skinny end) of salmon
4 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, peeled (do not use powdered)
grated rind of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon black peppercorns crushed*
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, or 1 scant Tablespoon dried
2 dried bay leaves

*The easiest way to do this is zip them into a plastic sandwich bag and pound them with a mallet until broken into coarse pieces

Rinse and pat dry salmon. Run your fingertips over the salmon and pull out any bones with a pair of pliers.  Place in a non reactive baking dish. 

In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients except bay leaves.

Rub spice mixture evenly over both sides of the salmon. Place bay leaves in baking dish.

Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over salmon, and a second piece over baking dish.  Weigh down salmon either by placing a cutting board (or piece of wood) that fits inside baking dish over salmon and placing a brick or several heavy cans on top of board.  Or, Place large cans (such as 28 ounce cans of tomatoes), that cover most of the surface of the salmon, directly over plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for 3 days. Remove weight and plastic wrap and flip salmon pieces once a day.

When curing process is completed, remove the salmon from the baking dish and scrape off any spices. Rinse in cold water and pat dry. The finished salmon will keep for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator, or you can seal it tightly in plastic wrap, or vacuum pack and freeze.

To serve:  Slice salmon very thinly holding a sharp knife at an angle, in the same direction as the white "zig zags" on the salmon. Tightly seal remaining salmon in plastic wrap.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mess ups and Mixing it up...


So, I skeptically bought and have been testing Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free1-to-1 Baking Flour in various applications. It contains:  White Rice Flour, Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Sweet White Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Flour, and Xanthan Gum. When it first came out I was hesitant to buy It, as Bob's Red Mill Original Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking  Flour was the first gluten free all purpose flour I tried over 5 years ago when Lillie was first diagnosed with celiac disease. And, I thought the end result with the original flour was awful. The first GF cookbook I bought called for this blend, and it just tasted, "garfy" as I called it, from the chickpea and garfava flour in it, as well as its coarse texture.   I was majorly disheartened. Then after setting on a quest to find the holy grail of gluten free flour blends, I settled on Jules Gluten Free, and decided to give up my quest of ever increasing choices on the market. Plus, all the gluten free cookbook authors seem to feel they have the "best" blend ever, resulting in me spending $8 or so on a particular ingredient of the blend, and needing to use only 2 Tbsp. of the pound bag. So far none of them beat out Jules in taste, texture or odor (yes, this is a "thing" with gluten free flour). But, then I began hearing good things about Bob's new product and felt as a responsible blogger, I needed to review it. Price wise it's comparable to Jules, which I can get on sale with free shipping for about $14 for a 5 lb bag (normally it is$19.95 per pound). Bob's Red Mill is  Gluten Free1-to-1 Baking Flour $7.99, 44 ounce (2.99/pound) at my local supermarket.  So I whipped up a batch of  a new cookie recipe I invented, using plump and luscious dried Montmorency cherries paired unsweetened coconut flakes. I was pleasantly surprised Although, there was more of a smell with the Bob's than with Jules the flour, it was not pronounced, and disappeared when baked. The texture of the finished product was good, and I didn't notice any grittiness. I went on to make banana muffins, and found similarly good results. My only complaint is that the Bob's didn't brown as well as Jules. But, not browning well is a typical problem with gluten free flours. The last big benefit is that Bob's product is corn free, while Jules contains corn in two ingredients. So for those with a corn allergy, Bob's is a better option.

So my conclusion is that I highly recommend the Bob's Red Mill new product. It's an improvement over his original, which did not contain xanthan gum and did contain bean flour, lending a gritty texture and off taste. The new flour is quite good as it claims "cup for cup" replacement  of flour in recipes. Of course, when converting any glutenful to gluten free recipe, one must fiddle with liquid amounts, as the gf flour absorbs differently. Price wise, it's a good bet for premium GF flour, and of course it's readily available in chain supermarkets, so it can be picked up when needed immediately, without doing an online order, or setting out for the health food or specialty store.  Taste wise, I still would place Jules about 5% above Bob's. However, I think Bob's is really a good bet. It edges out King Arthur, which had done well as a premium GF supermarket blend, but it was flawed in that it did not contain xanthan gum, and therefore couldn't be considered a complete gf flour blend, in my opinion.  As well, King Arthur is more expensive pound for pound.  Bob's has a reputation for integrity, and I'm glad they took the time to work out a really great blend for their respected customers.

The Maven's Tip for lining baking pans: Spray cookie sheets with a light mist of water before placing parchment paper on them. This causes the parchment to adhere to the pans with no slipping.

Chocolate-Cherry Coconut Cookies For All

1 cup vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance brand)
2/3 cup granulated sugar (Florida Crystals or Coconut Sugar is fine as well)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
1 cup gluten-free old fashioned oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil (not Extra Virgin)
1 - 10 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (non-dairy)
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 large baking pans with parchment paper, set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat margarine until fluffy.  Add sugars and vanilla extract; beat on medium speed until well combined.  Add flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Stir until just combined. Beat in olive oil until the batter is thick and smooth.  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Drop by two-tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Flatten tops slightly with fingers.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

Let rest on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield approx. 4 dozen