Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chaat Masala Salmon Salad

We were fortunate enough to travel to India last summer and I purchased some amazing spices. Unfortunately, the kids never wish to eat Indian food again. We were there for two weeks and EVERY meal, of course, was infused with Indian spices. The nail in the proverbial coffin, however, was the wretched stomach malady we all suffered from (except for Roger!) on the way back to the US. It was a good two weeks before we all felt normal again. So since then my beautiful spice packets have sat in isolation at the back of a cabinet, that is until now.

I was at the market yesterday and picked up about a pound of wild Alaskan salmon for dinner. I already had some curly endive and arugula in the fridge so I decided to make a salad. A salad just felt appropriate after our gluttonous week in CO. When I returned home I started poking around in the Indian spice packets and pulled out the chaat masala, tasted it, and decided that would be the one.

The spices in a chaat masala are unique to the region of India you happen to be visiting (Pakistan has its own version, too), or the vendor you happen to be purchasing it from. The packet I purchased contains amchur powder, mango, black salt, cumin, salt, coriander, chili, musk melon, black pepper, ginger, and citric acid. The most distinct memory I have about my purchase of chaat masala was the smell outside of the spice store. It had monsooned that morning and the ground was oozing with mud and garbage. The smell of animal dung hung thick in the dense air. Below is a photo taken outside of the store. Makes you want to run right out and eat something doesn’t it? We learned that India is the land of contrasts.

So, let’s get back to the salmon salad shall we?

I looked further through my pantry/fridge and discovered a delicious Dijon mustard vinaigrette that I had made a few weeks ago, an orange, eggs, grapes, lentils, fennel, Pernod, and a 100% whole wheat demi miche. I began measuring out what I thought I’d need to prepare a substantial dinner for three people (Jeffrey avoids salmon). Here are the ingredients in proportions.

  • 1 lb of wild Alaskan salmon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of chaat masala
  • 1/2 cup Pernod (has a licorice flavor that makes the fennel even more intense)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 4 oz. shaved fennel
  • About 6 roasted-seedless green grapes (again, amount is personal preference)
  • 1-10 minute hard-boiled egg sieved
  • Arugula (amount depends upon how hungry you are)
  • Curly endive (again, how hungry are you?)
  • Steamed lentils (amount is personal preference)

The Dijon Vinaigrette I had on hand (but doubled):

  • 1 tbsp of minced shallot
  • 2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. of Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp of reserved bacon fat (I had made a spinach and lardon salad a few weeks back used the fat from the lardons)
  • 2 tbsp of virgin olive oil

Whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. Slowly add the bacon fat and olive oil. Done.

Rub the chaat masala all over the salmon.

Bring the fish to room temperature (also called tempering).

While you wait for the fish to temper, begin slicing the fennel on a mandoline.

Add the Pernod, orange juice, and fennel to a skillet. Braise the fennel until it’s al dente (you don’t want it to be limp) and not super crunchy.

While you’re braising your fennel, you can be cubing the demi miche and creating croutons. I tossed them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toasted them in the oven. Super simple.

While my bread was roasting I threw about 18 grapes on another roasting pan and threw those in the oven, too. I pulled them out once they began to omit some juices on the pan. Before you pick them off the pan, wait until they cool a bit. The roasting brings out their sweetness and makes them delish!

Now it’s time to prepare your salmon. I wrapped mine in cedar paper and roasted it at 350 (I misted the paper with water) , but the cedar flavor was so negligible, and not necessary, that I wouldn’t even bother next time. I think that I got a little carried away with my pantry finds. So, grill it, roast it, pan fry it, or pan roast the salmon. Whatever floats your boat. When your salmon is done, season it with some Maldon sea salt flakes, or kosher salt to taste.

While your salmon is cooking, boil a 10-minute egg and then push it through a sieve. It comes out the other side like snow and makes for a wonderful salad topper.

Once everything has cooled to room temperature you can toss the endive, arugula, lentils, grapes, fennel, and croutons with the mustard vinaigrette (to taste). Place the salmon over the salad and top with sieved hard-boiled egg. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the completed dish. Enjoy!

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” —Julia Child

Bon appétit,


Whoopie Pies

I have fond memories of eating whoopie pies as a kid growing up in Massachusetts. My mom had a full-time job, but every so often she would whip up a batch of pies. It wasn’t until our move out to California (seven years ago) that I became aware that whoopie pies have been considered a New England treat. However, after doing a little research on these pint-sized cakes, I discovered that there’s a fair amount of controversy surrounding their birthplace.

In 2011 Maine introduced state legislature officially known as “An Act to Designate the Whoopie Pie as the State Dessert.” Who knew? I certainly had no idea that Maine felt so passionately about whoopie pies. Evidently whoopie pies have been made at “Labadie’s” in Lewiston, Maine since 1925. And many are of the opinion that “Labadie’s” is where the first pie was made…ay-up.

When word of Maine’s legislative proposal spread, many in Pennsylvania became offended over Maine’s claim to the whoopie pie. It seems that Pennsylvanians believe that the pie originated with Amish women who were trying to be thrifty and use up their excess cake batter. Pennsylvania whoopie pie enthusiasts claim that the Amish passed the recipe on to younger generations without a paper trail, hence, the inability to prove its genesis.

In the end, the Maine legislature decided to proclaim the whoopie pie the official state treat and the state dessert became blueberry pie made with wild Maine blueberries.

Enough about whoopie pie history, let’s get down to business. I’m a traditionalist so I only make chocolate pies with a marshmallow filling. I made a batch today using my mom’s whoopie pie recipe, which I’ve modified a bit.

Whoopie Pies (makes about 14 pies)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (sifted)

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs, vanilla, crisco, and milk until well combined (creaming method). Set aside.

In a smaller mixing bowl add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sifted cocoa powder. Mix this with a spoon until well combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until there are no lumps in the batter.

Spray your whoopie pie pan with non-stick baking spray. Drop a tablespoon of batter in the center of each shallow indentation.

Bake until center is set. Use an off-set spatula to lift the discs out of the pan. Let them cool completely before you begin working with them.

While you’re waiting for them to cool you can make your filling.


  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups of confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 cups of marshmallow cream (Fluff)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp water

Beat together the butter, sugar, marshmallow, vanilla, and water in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth.

Using your off-set spatula, glue the chocolate discs together with a large smear of marshmallow filling.

Consume with a tall glass of ice cold milk. Mmm, wicked good!

All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much.” George Harrison

Until next time,


Curds & Whey

I love ricotta. There are so many tasty ways you can serve this spreadable/stuffable delight. Because it has a quiet flavor profile, it’s an extremely versatile ingredient. And whatever it’s lacking for in taste is clearly made up for in its creamy texture.  I just made a fresh batch yesterday for a small dinner party we hosted last night and I’d like to share my no-sweat recipe. I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I memorized the recipe so long ago (see, it’s that simple!) that I can’t recall its origin.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, here are a few interesting factoids about this creamy curd (Found on Mr. Wright’s a James Beard Award winner for his writing on food).

  1. Ricotta “cheese” is not a cheese. In the world of a cheese maker (fromagère), it’s referred to as a creamy curd.
  2. Ricotta is an Italian pronunciation that literally means “re-cooked.”
  3. Because ricotta is the by-product (the whey) of another cheese, it’s known as a serum or albumin cheese.
  4. The best ricotta (so they say) is made with sheep’s milk. I’ve never had access to sheep’s milk, sadly, so I cannot judge this claim for myself.
  5. Ricotta may have its origins in the Arab-Sicilian era.
  6. The first illustration of the making of ricotta can be found in a medieval health handbook from the eleventh century.

Let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A cheese thermometer
  • Cheesecloth (I prefer unbleached)
  • A stockpot that’s large enough to hold 10 cups of milk product
  • A strainer
  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • 2 quarts of whole milk

Unfurl your cheesecloth into a strainer and place this in the sink.

Pour the 2 quarts of whole milk into your stockpot. Add the buttermilk. Slowly bring the temperature up until it reaches 170 degrees, which takes patience. Stir the milk slowly so you don’t damage the forming curds.

The curds are really beginning to bloom.

Be Careful of the Curds!


Now that you’ve reached the magical temp. of 170, and your curds have all blossomed,  remove the pan from the heat and carefully strain your stockpot over the cheesecloth. The pan will be very heavy, so be careful not to splatter the hot whey all over yourself!


My goal here was to make a drier cheese called ricotta salata, so after most of the whey had dripped into the sink, I twisted the ends of the cheesecloth to add a tiny bit of pressure to the curds. If you wish your curds to stay a bit creamier, do not add much pressure to the cheesecloth.

Sadly, the photo I had taken of the ricotta once it was removed from the cheesecloth is unusable. The final photo I have of this batch is the picture I took after packaging it for the fridge.

Ready for consumption.

As you can see, we didn’t re-cook any whey for this recipe. Buttermilk’s cultured with lactic acid bacteria and this acid creates the curds. A lot of other recipes call for lemon juice to take the place of the buttermilk. I’ve found the above method simpler, easier to remember, and that’s why it’s my go to recipe.

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?  Charles De Gaulle