“Be Inspired” Seasonally by Rita Calvert
Recently I visited Sweden as a traveler, not a tourist. There is a distinction, as being the tourist is superficial, while the traveler develops a deeper connection with her surroundings. For me that translates to watching all things green and blossoming, sourcing the farms which produce the foods of this happy land of utopia, and visiting livestock along the trails while documenting the kind of pasture they live so pleasantly upon. Invested in my surroundings, I experienced the finale of spring just as June 21 arrived with the celebration of “Mid-Summer”. For this holiday weekend marking the longest day and beginning of summer, dances are performed around the May Pole, many folks with fresh flower tiaras in their hair. The foods showcased for this holiday are pickled herring dishes and loads of new potatoes which are offered everywhere.
In comparison, here in the Chesapeake, our mid-summer coincides with the July 4th holiday when the fields and gardens really start to boogie. Cucumbers are aplenty, corn is showing its tassles and the berries are reaching their apex. We’ll spend a few weeks on this blog sharing recipes and photos of some dishes to keep in your Mid-Summer Repertoire.
Brined and Smoked Salmon
Every time I pull out my bag of tricks with my specialty of Brined and Smoked Salmon, I get new requests for the recipe. The brine below is from my cookbook, The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up and discusses using the brine for meat as well as seafood. This recipe is perfect for a large slab of fin fish like a side of salmon, then smoke over fruitwood if you have the supply as I do from cutting down my fig trees!
Bourbon and Coffee Brine
Because brines can be effective with simply salt and water, it can seem excessive to add too many herbs and seasonings. I used to worry that the flavors would get lost in all that water. Well, this recipe changed my thinking. It not only tenderizes, it adds such richness you can almost taste the individual ingredients. I brined a whole chicken overnight and then smoked it, but the brine makes enough for any meat or poultry—grilled or smoked. As mentioned in the recipe, be sure to let the side of salmon or meat rest in the brine for 24 hours.
brines up to 6 to 8 pounds of meat, poultry or seafood
for the brine:
- 4 cups water
- 2 large dried bay leaves
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 medium orange
- 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 cups strong coffee, cooled
Place 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves and let simmer for 15 minutes. Place in a large, nonaluminumbrining receptacle; add the remaining 3 cups of water and remaining 9 ingredients and stir to mix. The brine should be cold at this point. Add the food to bebrined, making sure it fully submerges. Refrigerate and let brine up to 24 hours.
Get the smoker hot and spewing before adding the fish or meat. Depending on your temperature, a 2 1/2 pound side of salmon can take up to 45 minutes.
Shaved Fennel, Cucumber and Dill Salad
This refreshing salad is a cinch to make coming in under 15 minutes. A mandoline-even the inexpensive Asian kind, makes the slicing simple. If you’re using a knife to prep here, do your best to slice things very, very thinly – not quite see through thin, but close.
- 1 medium-large seedless cucumber, sliced into paper thin coins
- 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
- 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- Kosher salt
Combine the cucumber, fennel and dill in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, vinegar, water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside and marinate for 20 minutes, or up to an hour.
When you are ready to serve the salad, toss gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust with more of the lemon juice, or salt if needed. If the lemons were particularly tart, you may need to counter the pucker-factor by adding a tiny drizzle of honey. Let your taste buds guide you.
Blueberry Frangipane Tart
It didn’t look terribly unique, but my dessert drew raves for the sake of the frangipane. Frangipane is the secret to making artisan-quality bakery goods in your own home which taste like you sourced them in the finest European bakery. Velvety almond cream, warmed up with just a hint of vanilla, gives any pastry delicious added richness and texture. When I was a pastry chef at a catering company, we used to make extra large batches of frangipane and keep a good bit of it-raw and portion -packed in the freezer.
- 1 sheet puff pastry (12×12 inches)
- 1 recipe Frangipane (below)
- Filling (for 1 sheet puff pastry sheet tart)
- 4 cups blueberries, about 2 pints
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoon flour
- pinch salt
- Zest of one lemon, finely chopped or grated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons black currant jelly, melted
This frangipane recipe makes enough almond cream for 1 large tart or several small tartlets.
- 1/2 cup ground almond meal
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Using a food processor, combine all the ingredients until a smooth, creamy paste is formed.
First make the Frangipane.
Preheat oven to 375º F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll the puff pastry and place it on the parchment paper. Refrigerate to keep cold.
In a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, gently toss the blueberries, sugar, flour, salt, lemon zest and vanilla until well combined. Cook down for 10 minutes until sugar has melted and berries are glazed.
Spread Frangipane on puff pastry sheet, leaving 1/2 inch border around the edges. Bake 10 minutes.
Pour berries on top of frangipane, return to oven and bake about 20 minutes more. Puff pastry edges should be crispy and golden brown.
Cool for a 10 minutes, then brush with melted black currant jelly to glaze. Let cool to solidify.
Cut in squares with a serrated knife.