Condiment Spotlight: Green Olive Tapenade (with Oven Roasted Salmon)

The Green Olive Tapenade is a keeper.

Green Olive Tapenade Topping on Roasted Salmon

I’ll be honest. The real star of this salmon dish is the green olive and almond tapenade. No offense to the salmon, which is sublime as always and a no-fail simple, healthy meal. But, frankly, it’s the tapenade I want to talk about: it’s positively addictive with a briny brightness that complements the buttery rich salmon. It’s also versatile. Not only is the tapenade a worthy accompaniment to grilled fish (halibut is also a good contender), it’s a great stand-alone starter spooned on crostini or sprinkled over pizzas, pasta, and grains. The good news is that this recipe makes a generous amount of tapenade, so you can refrigerate the leftovers. Then you will have extra to smear on a slice of bread or swipe a carrot stick through. You might even find yourself eating it straight up from a bowl with a spoon. I’m speaking from experience.

Recipe: Roasted Salmon with Green Olive Tapenade

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: about 40 minutes
Serves 4; Makes about 1 1/2 cups tapenade

Tapenade:
12 ounces pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
2 anchovies, drained
1 large garlic clove
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salmon:
4 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, pin bones removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 4 lemon wedges for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the tapenade: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to a coarse paste, without letting it get mushy. (The tapenade may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.)
2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the salmon in one layer in a roasting pan, skin side down. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and the lemon juice. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until the salmon is just cooked to your desired doneness, about 25 minutes for medium, depending on the thickness of the filets.
3. Transfer to serving plates and top each filet with about 2 tablespoons of the tapenade. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Greek Tomato and White Bean Stew with Feta and Ouzo

 A splash of Ouzo and a sprinkle of feta add Greek inspiration to this hearty vegetable stew:

White Bean, Kale, Tomato Ragout with Ouzo and Feta

I love hearty vegetable soups in the winter. They are quick to prepare and non-judgmental when it comes to emptying the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for a healthy dinner. One of my favorite stocks is Italian inspired and tomato based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I’ll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of winter greens which wilt in the simmering stock just long enough to soften without discoloring. For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour further south to Greece for inspiration. A splash of Ouzo (a Greek anise liqueur) amplifies the fennel in the soup and adds an extra layer of flavor that rounds out the tomatoes’ natural acidity. Rather than submerging a rind of cheese in the stock, I sprinkled feta over the soup for garnish. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew with Tomato, Feta, and Ouzo

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
2 to 3 tablespoons Ouzo or anise liqueur
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale (or chard)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Crumbled feta for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, and the onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 tablespoons Ouzo, the bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more salt or another tablespoon of Ouzo if desired.
3. While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. 
Stir the kale and white beans into the stew and cook until the kale wilts, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

Elegant Sides: Pureed Cauliflower

A light and silky alternative to mashed potatoes:

Silky pureed cauliflower

Can you ever get tired of potatoes? No, you firmly say, and I would agree. Sometimes, however, a fluffy-creamy-comforting side dish is called for, and potatoes (shocker) just don’t do the trick. Usually it’s simply a menu issue, meaning potatoes are not a perfect match to the main dish. Think shellfish, for instance, such as scallops or shrimp. Or a cuisine that doesn’t traditionally include potatoes. Step in, cauliflower. There’s something a little magical about this gnarly crucifer. Eaten raw, its flavor is pronounced in an earthy, grassy, unmistakably cruciferous way. When steamed, it transforms into something else, morphing into a buttery, milder version of itself – slightly sweet, a little fresh, and beautifully enhanced with, yes, butter. When roasted, it becomes something else entirely, evoking adjectives which include caramelized, nutty, and crisp. I made this puree recently to accompany a dinner of slow-cooked lamb. It goes equally well with just about anything.

Cauliflower Purée

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

The chicken stock adds great flavor to the purée. If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can use water, but adjust the seasoning accordingly.

1 large head cauliflower, florets and core cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves

Place the cauliflower and chicken stock in a large pot. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and process until smooth. Add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper and process to blend. If the purée is too thick, thin with additional spoonfuls of the stock to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves and extra black pepper.

Breakfast for Dinner: Shakshuka

Tunisian-style Ragout with Sausage, Kale, and Poached Egg

Egg, Sausage, Kale Ragout

Shakshuka is a traditional North African breakfast composed of simmered tomatoes, peppers, aromatics, and poached eggs. It’s meant to be spicy which is a nifty DIY method for keeping cool in the Saharan heat. (The more you sweat, the more you cool off). As for us, it’s a warming meal that screams comfort food, perfect for the dead of winter. The Tunisians call shakshuka breakfast, but I’ve added sausage, spinach, and chickpeas and prefer to call it dinner. It’s delicious as is, served with crusty bread for mopping up the egg yolk and the sauce. If desired, spoon prepared couscous (or rice for gluten-free) into shallow serving bowls. Make a well in the center of the couscous and ladle the ragout and egg into the center of the couscous.

Sausage Tomato Ragout with Poached Eggs and Chick Peas

Prepare this in a 10-inch deep skillet and serve family-style at the table. If you have individual skillets (pictured), then prepare the ragout in one large skillet or pot. Before adding the eggs, divide the ragout between individual skillets placed on the stovetop over medium heat, and add one egg to each skillet. Chard or kale leaves may be substituted for the spinach.

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound hot Italian or chorizo sausages, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup
1 large garlic clove
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa or hot sauce, to taste

1 bunch spinach, stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
4 to 6 large eggs
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer the sausages with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard the oil from the pan, but do not rinse out the skillet.
2. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the onion to the skillet and saute over medium heat until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes, scraping up any brown bits. Add the garlic, paprika, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Return the sausages to the pan and add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and salt. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, add the harissa or hot sauce to taste.
3. Simmer the ragout, partially covered, over medium-low heat, to slightly thicken and allow the flavors to develop, about 20 minutes, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir in the spinach and cook until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes.
4. Make an indentation or well in the ragout with a spoon. Crack one egg in a small bowl and gently slide the egg into the indentation. Repeat with the remaining eggs, taking care to not overlap the eggs. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the egg whites are set but the yolks remain runny, about 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat. Serve family style or spoon the ragout with one egg into individual serving bowls. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley and a grind of black pepper.

Cider Brined and Grill Roasted Turkey

Do brine or not to brine?
In my opinion, brining is worth it – all you need is time. Follow these steps, and you will have an unfailingly moist and flavorful turkey with a crisp and crackly skin.

Brined, Air-Dried, and Grill-Roasted Turkey

My favorite way to make a turkey is to brine it – not dry brine, but in a liquid, for 24 hours. Then I remove it from the brine and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to dry out. This ensures that the skin will not be soggy, but sufficiently dry of moisture so that it will roast, or in this case grill, to crispy perfection. Before roasting, I allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour, to ensure even cooking, and then I roast it on the grill. The grill? Yep. Not only am I partial to my gas grill for all sorts of cooking, I only have one oven. So when the holidays roll around and the kitchen and its appliances kick into overtime, I rely on my handy outdoor grill to step in for roasting. It’s simple to do over indirect heat, much like the indirect heat of your oven. Just pay attention to the temperature, and rotate the turkey for even cooking. The added bonus is that the grill will burnish your turkey a gorgeous mahogany color, a hue I have never achieved in my kitchen oven. So there you have it.

The turkey pictured is a 20 pounder, but generally, I roast a 16 to 18 pound bird. My family and I don’t like stuffings, so I fill the cavity of the turkey with handfuls of herbs, a quartered onion, and a quartered lemon, while taking care not to pack in too much. Once the turkey has finished cooking and while it’s resting (for at least 30 minutes) I remove the herbs and wedges and replace with a fresh bunch of herbs for decoration before carving. This step is necessary in order to show off the gorgeous results – and, boy, are they gorgeous.

So, go ahead and work these simple steps into your pre-Thanksgiving plan. You can do one step a day: Begin on Monday with the brine and finish with grilling on Thursday for a spectacular Thanksgiving turkey. It’s worth it.

Cider Brine:
3 quarts water, divided
1 quart apple cider
1 cup kosher salt
1 medium onion, quartered
1 small bunch fresh sage and/or rosemary sprigs
3 garlic cloves, smashed but intact
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
Peeled zest of one orange

To brine the turkey, you will need enough space in your refrigerator for a container large enough to hold your turkey submerged in the brine. This can be cumbersome, but it’s worth it, in my book.  I have used a plastic storage box in the past, but now rely on a cooler, in which I pour the brine directly to cover the turkey. I then leave the cooler outside overnight (note: this is only practical if the outside temperature is as cold as your refrigerator).

1. Make the brine: Combine 1 to 2 quarts water, the salt, onion, sage or rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and the orange zest in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and add the remaining water and the cider; cool thoroughly (or chill overnight).

2. Brine the turkey: Place the turkey in the brine. If not fully submerged, then add more water to cover. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Air-dry the turkey: Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry inside the cavity and outside. Place on a rack in a large roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Grill the turkey: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting or grilling. To grill: Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat (325°F). Grill until thoroughly cooked, rotating the turkey every hour and basting every 30 minutes or so with pan juices. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

Cranberry Sauce 2.0
Add a little zing to your sauce

Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without cranberry sauce. And while I have nothing against the traditional sugary cranberry combination, I find I crave an extra depth of flavor in the standard sauce – and so I devised this chutney. What I like about chutney is it’s a combination of fruit and savory ingredients, and not timid about incorporating herbs, spices, and even a kick of heat. In other words, it nails many of the flavor senses (sweet, sour, salt, bitter, heat) that, to me, yield a more satisfying mouthful.

In this chutney, dried figs add a mellow, nutty sweetness, and fresh ginger and orange add perfume and zing, all of which balance out the cranberries’ natural astringency, while allowing them to remain the star of the show – after all we’re talking Thanksgiving here.

The good news is that this chutney is not exclusively for the Thanksgiving table. It also makes a great condiment for other fruit-loving proteins such as pork, duck, and lamb. I like to serve it as an accompaniment on a cheese platter as well, or dabbed on goat cheese-smeared crostini.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Makes about 2 cups

18 dried black mission figs, quartered
1/2 cup Port wine
12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
Juice and zest from 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig

1. Place the figs in a small bowl and pour the Port wine over the figs. Set aside for 30 minutes.
2. Combine the cranberries and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Add the figs and Port wine, the ginger, orange juice and zest, pepper, salt, and rosemary sprig. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the cranberries burst and the chutney has thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Discard the rosemary sprig. (The chutney may be made up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature).

Grilled Beef Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Lean into the heat with these spicy grilled steak skewers:

When the weather is hot and shouty, then why not shout back with skewers of fiery meat? These steak skewers are not only cooked over a flame, they are bathed in a heady lime and garlic marinade that tenderizes and infuses the meat with bold flavor and kicking spice. And don’t stop there: Raise the flavor and heat bar further by serving the skewers with a feisty sauce inspired by Zhoug, a green herb condiment hailing from the Middle East. It’s a heat-spiked herbaceous blend that’s a cross between chimichurri and harissa – arguably a match made in heaven. You can keep the steaks in large pieces, or, better yet, cut into strips and thread on skewers for fun party food. Serve the sauce on the side, so the meat can be dabbed or generously swiped – leave it up to your heat threshold to dictate the amount. 

Skirt steak, flank steak, or hanger steak are great cuts that love a marinade, which helps to tenderize their natural toughness. When cutting the meat into strips, be sure to slice across the grain (the way that the muscle fibers are aligned). By doing this, you will cut up the muscle fibers which would otherwise increase chewiness. Grill the meat quickly over direct high heat for best results.

Grilled Skirt Steak Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes plus 4 to 6 hours marinating time
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

Marinade:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds skirt steak, cut against the grain in 1 inch strips

Sauce:
1 large poblano pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 cup (packed) cilantro sprigs
1 cup (packed) Italian parsley sprigs
1/2 cup (packed) mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare:
1. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Place the steak strips in a resealable plastic bag or glass container with a lid. Pour the marinade over and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Make the sauce: Place the peppers and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, lime juice, cumin, and salt and process to blend. With the machine running, add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is thick but pourable. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired.

3. Remove steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Thread the strips on pre-soaked bamboo skewers and discard the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Grill the skewers over direct heat until charred and cooked to your desired doneness, 5 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. Serve with
 the spicy green chile sauce.