smoked trout spread at the seashore

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I know the delicious pastries, custards, and pies are distracting, but you may have noticed some of Noisette Pastry Kitchen‘s savory offerings.  Of particular interest: any quiche, pot pies, the goat cheese scones, takeaway pork rillettes and pâté, cassoulet for three people in a pie tin for $18 (YES! best deal in town), and fillets of smoked trout seal-wrapped for the most marvelous…IMG_2964

…smoked trout spread.  I’m eating it while watching the spectacular waves outside my hotel on the coast, where I escaped to work on my book proposal.  Smoked trout is brainfood, but you might choose instead to prepare it for a televised spectacle or something.  You surely have something better to do than sit inside and write a proposal.  Might I suggest making it for a winter beach picnic with someone you <3 ?

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Smoked Trout Spread

Serves 4 with crackers or celery sticks.

  • Half a brick of cream cheese (about 4 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup of creme fraiche or sour cream
  • Half a smoked trout fillet
  • Handful of parsley
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chives (optional)

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about 5 seconds, or let sit out for 15 minutes.  Combine the cream cheese and creme fraiche or sour cream in a food processor, and process until big chunks are gone.  Add trout, parsley, and shallots and process just until combined.  Taste and correct seasonings (mine needed salt but not pepper, since the fillets were smoked with cracked black peppercorns).  Top with more parsley or chopped chives.

 

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pickled cheese? czech.

I finally found a preparation for those anemic supermarket Camemberts, thanks to Czech bar food, which takes no prisoners. Nakládaný Hermelin is a garlicky Czech specialty I wish I had found in Prague last summer, but saw it on the internet instead.  Hermelin is a bloomy rind cheese similar to brie, and it is pickled in big ol’ jars of spiced oil made heady by garlic, peppers, and onion.

Of course, if you wanted to use an imported Camembert, my assistant and I wouldn’t say no.  Nakládaný Hermelin hails from the same class of bar snacks as utopenci (“Drowned Men”): fine-grained miniature sausages, pickled in vinegar.  See?  Take no prisoners.

Preparing Nakládaný Hermelin is quite easy: just take a wheel of Camembert, slice it in half horizontally through the middle, press slivers of garlic and dust each half liberally with top quality paprika and pepper, then put the two halves back together.  Slice in wedges so it will fit in your sterilized jar, then layer with onions, bay leaf, and pickled peppers, and cover in oil.

I’ve adapted the recipe adapted from a blog called Northern Table and variations on this Czech food message board.  I’d warn against any of the versions that suggest leaving the cheese on the counter to ripen at room temperature for several days or longer, however, or reusing the oil.  You can get pretty sick by eating soft cheese left on the counter under any circumstances, and Camembert doesn’t quite have the acid one needs to stave off botulism in anaerobic (i.e., under oil) environments.

What you’re losing is the ripening and oozifying of the cheese.  By using pickled peppers you’d be lowering the pH even more, so, um, maybe…but I really don’t trust those garlic slivers in the center of the cheese.  It’s just not worth the risk.  And it’s still pretty darn good, all garlicky and spicy, after being refrigerated for a week.

I wouldn’t waste your best, raw milk Camembert on this preparation either.  Use pasteurized cheese, both for safety and budget.  The garlic and oil will kill any subtle nuances of a good cheese, believe me.

Rawr!!

Before serving, I’d suggest taking out the wedges you’d like to eat and letting them sit at room temperature for a while (and I’ll let you decide how many hours is “a while,” with the food safety proviso that 2 hours max is the limit for prepared foods).

As for the size of the jar, well, that’s up to you.  A quart canning jar for two small rounds of cheese seems ideal to me.  I managed to squeeze a small wheel into a pint jar, just barely, for my first try, and had a hard time getting the oil to fill all the air pockets (also important for food safety reasons).

Be sure you sterilize the jar by washing it well, then letting it go through the heat cycle of your dishwasher or boiling the jar for 10 minutes.

Dobrou chut!

Nakládaný Camembert

This recipe is easy to scale up or down, and Czechs experiment with the spices to their own taste, so you can’t go wrong.  The proportions here are estimated, since I made mine in a pint jar.  I’d advise using more paprika than less, and less garlic than more.  I’m not sure that I’m happy with using vegetable oil, since it didn’t add anything to the flavor of the cheese, but that’s what they use.  You might experiment with olive oils.  Other suggested spices are mustard seed, whole coriander, fresh rosemary (make sure it is completely dry), or dried hot peppers.  You could also just add 2 tablespoons of pickling spices for a slightly different taste.

  • 1 jar, quart-sized
  • 2 small rounds of pasteurized Camembert (about 8-10 oz. each), not too ripe
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, slivered as thinly as you can
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly in rounds
  • 2 cups pickled peppers (try a mix of pickled jalapeño rings and pickled roasted red pepper strips if you don’t have your own canned)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality sweet paprika (smoked would also be good)
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • black pepper
  • 3-4 fresh bay leaves (if you wash them, be sure to dry them completely, since moisture in anaerobic preparations encourages clostridium botulinum growth)
  • 1-2 cups vegetable or a light olive oil (you’ll need enough to cover the cheese completely)

Prepare a clean, sterilized quart jar (see notes above) and a lid/ring combo or a plastic cap.  Refrigerate the cheese so it is as stiff as possible.

Slice the onion thinly into rings, and slice the garlic thinly, then cut it into slivers.  Thoroughly dry your bay leaves.  If you have a mortar and pestle, crack the whole spices to release the oils.

Prepare the chilled Camembert by slicing each wheel in half lengthwise, so you expose the inside of the wheel. Work fast and with a confident hand, because it is sticky and may fall apart if you mess around with the cut too much.  Press the garlic into one of the exposed halves for each cheese.  Sprinkle both halves of the interior with the paprika and lots of fresh black pepper.

Rejoin the two halves of the cheeses, then slice into wedges that will fit neatly into the jar in layers.

Layer the ingredients in the jar.  Place several onion rings and some spices at the bottom of the jar.  Use onions, pickled peppers, and bay leaves (and dried chiles if using) to separate the wedges, filling the gaps with more pickled peppers. Press the cheese down so it is firmly packed, but don’t pack too tightly.

When you are about half full, add some oil and more spices.  Press lightly with a spoon to release air bubbles.

Keep adding cheese and other items until the jar is about 3/4 full, then top off with oil, again pressing down and checking for air bubbles.  Add the rest of the spices.  Make sure the cheese is fully submerged in the oil.  Close with a canning lid/ring or plastic cap.

Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks, checking after the first few days that the cheese is still submerged.  When you’re ready, enjoy thin slices with traditional rye bread or a baguette, and some Czech lager.  The cheese should taste very garlicky and cheesy — if any off flavors or odd colors or mold are present, don’t eat.

ajvar’s late summer song

This weird summer in the Willamette Valley didn’t seem to affect the peppers as much as the tomatoes. I’m not sure why, since peppers love heat even more than tomatoes, but we had a pretty decent crop.

So…now is the time to cash in on peppers.  I do this by making the quintessential roasted red pepper spread of the Balkans: ajvar.

Ajvar is a mix of all the red peppers you can get your hands on, plus eggplant and garlic.  Sometimes, other vegetables and herbs are added.  In Eastern Europe, they use the elongated, thick-skinned pepper varieties that have a bit of heat to them.  The peppers must be completely ripe and dark red.  The peppers pictured above are what we see most frequently in the Eugene farmers’ markets — choose the conical ones pictured in the upper left corner for most Balkanesque results.  They’re easiest to roast.

Once you’re collected all these peppers, you roast them over an open flame, and then peel them, purée them, and cook them down until the whole pot of mush is rich, heavenly, sweet and smoky spread.

Uses for ajvar are legion.  The best way, of course, is straight up, spread on warm bread and eaten with cheese.  I like to serve it with meat, as well.  I use frozen corn from earlier in the summer to make roasted red pepper and corn salsa out of it, and in the winter, I add it to vegetable soups or stews.  It’s great on pasta with a bit of cream and grilled chicken, or with mild white fish.  The top, pretty photo, is of ajvar I had in Prague this summer.  It was accompanied by freshly baked bread and three kinds of cheese (a cottage, a feta, and a very mild Havarti-like cheese).  I suspect that the brilliant ruby color of the ajvar means that it was 100% red peppers.  It actually didn’t taste that great: no garlic, and possibly cooked peppers.

The ugly picture, on the other hand, is an unspeakably delicious combination: one of Del Del Guercio’s “stubs” sausages dressed with ajvar I made last weekend.  Looks aren’t everything!  Although the bad photo makes it look even more washed out than it is, the ajvar made with eggplant purée is always a bit more pale than red peppers.  I like eggplant for the slight bitterness it adds.  I also leave in tiny bits of blackened skin and a few seeds to add that umami flavor and some texture.  And I use as many of my hot Hungarian peppers as I can collect.  This year, I planted more plants than ever…then waited for months for them to ripen.  Finally!

Note: this spread, thanks to the eggplant and its thick consistency, is not safe to can.  I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make it safe to put up, but didn’t get an answer in time for this year’s batch.  I’ll update this post if/when I hear back from the Canning Powers that Be.  It can be very safely and profitably frozen, and the spread keeps for a week or so in the refrigerator.

Enjoy, while you can, late summer’s last hurrah.

Ajvar — Red Pepper and Eggplant Spread

Makes about 2 quarts
5 lbs. perfectly ripe red peppers, mixed hot and sweet
2 medium Italian eggplants
3 -4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil for serving

Roast peppers and eggplant using either the grill or the broiler setting in your oven.  Julia Mitric provides instructions in her wonderful ajvar recipe for broiling them:

Preheat oven to broil. Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on an old baking sheet or one lined with foil.

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and score with a knife, drizzle it with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a little salt and place it on a second baking sheet.

Place one of the oven racks roughly 3 to 4 inches below the heat; place peppers on this rack. The eggplant should sit on a lower rack.

Broil the peppers and eggplant, turning the peppers occasionally until they are well roasted on all sides, roughly 15 to 20 minutes. The eggplant may be done [ed., meaning cooked until soft] first; if so, remove it and set it aside to cool.

The other option is to grill your peppers on a BBQ grill.  I prefer this, as it adds smokiness.  Wrap the eggplants in foil after poking them a couple times with a fork, then place them on the coolest part of the grill.  Watching carefully, grill whole peppers just until the skin blisters and slightly blackens.  You just want to be able to pull the skin off, not blacken the entire pepper.  Remove peppers and place them in a bowl, then cover the bowl tightly with a plastic bag so the peppers steam and the skin loosens.

Cook the eggplant until soft, turning it often.  We find that if we cook eggplant after grilling whatever it is we’re making for dinner, leaving it to sit on the coals with the grill cover on for about 30 minutes, it gets completely soft and nicely smoky.

Allow the peppers and eggplant to cool enough to handle.  Remove the blackened skin from the peppers, then de-stem and seed the peppers.  Cut them in quarters and set aside in a bowl.

Remove the pulp from the eggplant with a spoon, carefully pulling the seed section from the flesh.  Discard seeds.

Add peppers with the accumulated juice and garlic to food processor. Pulse until the peppers are chopped into fine pieces, then add eggplant pulp and purée.  Add vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  You might also add a little sugar if the purée isn’t sweet enough.

The purée can now be eaten, or, even better, cook it down for an hour or so at a simmer, so the flavors will be more concentrated.

The flavor will improve if ajvar is allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight.  You may freeze (in 1/2 cup or 1 cup portions) or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

how to hurt your friends with blue cheese

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There is enough garlic in this dressing to kill every vampire west of the Cascades.  Do not serve to bloodthirsty guests or ghouls who eschew strong flavors.  Vegans might perish by just being in the room with this dip.  Even garlic lovers will cry out in pain/joy/pain/joy.

I heard about this recipe from a Master Gardener colleague.  Legend has it that this dip disappears within moments of being served at Extension gatherings.  Gardeners drift by with thick slices of slathered bread, leaving a trail of garlic on the breeze behind them.  When I heard that, I knew I had to try it.  And so should you.  This dip is easy enough for people who can’t cook and is thick enough to be used to stuff unsuspecting cherry tomatoes and such.

Garlic Extravaganza Blue Cheese Dip

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  • 12 oz. prepared premium blue cheese dressing (I use Toby’s from Springfield, OR)
  • 1 small wedge of premium blue cheese
  • 1 small head of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • dash celery seed or about a tablespoon of celery leaves (taste to see if too bitter first)

Chop garlic to bits in food processor.  Add remaining ingredients.  Serve with Buffalo wings, crudités, iceberg wedges and bacon, tomatoes, or keep it simple:  in a bread bowl with hunks of bread.

P.S. The image is of chicken wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo!  My dip is thicker and less mayo-ey.  Work is going well here in the Buff.  I’m off to the conference and won’t be blogging for a week or so.  Catch you on the flip side!