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C is For Cooking

It’s a thing I do – the weather gets cooler and I start cooking. Well, technically I never stopped cooking, but when Fall finally arrives (and it took its own sweet time this year – thanks, La Nina) I cook A LOT. Saturday I had planned to make some wild Salmon I got at Trader Joe’s but we spent the day running around and ran out of time so we scratched Plan A and made the salmon Sunday night instead. Looking for inspiration, I visited one of my favorite food blogs and it didn’t disappoint. There were some lovely entries describing various seafood with tomato-fennel sauces, broth, and ragouts. Perfect.

Today, stuck home with a raging sinus headache I messed about in the kitchen again once my Mucinex kicked in. My plan was to use up some eggplant that had seen better days and also make my family’s now-famous Pork Tenderloin with Pears in Balsamic Reduction for dinner. Oh, and I had some wheat berries I had been wanting to turn into a salad… Then I realized the kids had no snacks for their lunches this week so I thought I’d make some pumpkin bread, too.

I decided on Caponata for the eggplant – epicurious was my inspiration there…that recipe reminded me of my grandmothers — both of them. I tried out my pressure cooker for the wheat berries since I hadn’t soaked them overnight. Looking for side dishes to go with the pork, I asked my mom and brother for ideas and they offered up several, from which I chose roasted sweet potatoes and green beans with toasted almonds. Epicurious also had a bazillion recipes for pumpkin bread but the one I liked best needed a serious overhaul as it called for 3 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil (!!) I made progress but next time I need to figure out how to cut more of the sugar – even though it makes 2 loaves, 1 cup per loaf is still way too much. At least I got rid of the fat.

The results for all of these were so good that I don’t want to lose them. Which you might think would be impossible since I could just find the recipe again…and therein lies the problem. I am genetically incapable of following a recipe without amending it somehow…and then I forget how I tweaked it and can’t ever go home again. Which isn’t all bad since I always have new creations to enjoy, but I digress.

So here you are, Dear Reader, the beneficiary of my culinary experiments this weekend.

Salmon Filets with Lemon-Scented Fennel-Tomato Ragout

4 salmon filets
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
fresh breadcrumbs
olive oil
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 14oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
juice and zest from 1 lemon
1 T. capers, drained
slug of dry sherry

Saute the fennel and onion in olive oil until they begin to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper and add tomatoes, lemon juice and sherry. Turn heat down to medium and simmer gently until tender and liquid is slightly thickened. Add capers and lemon zest.

In a second frying pan large enough to comfortably hold the filets, heat olive oil until very hot. Season filets with salt and pepper, and coat one side of salmon with breadcrumbs, pressing crumbs into fish. Carefully transfer filets to the pan and cook crumb-side down for several minutes. Carefully flip filets and cook another minute or two until just cooked through. Serve filets over tomato-fennel mixture.

Caponata

olive oil
1 1 1/2-pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons drained capers
several large cracked green olives, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Toasted pine nuts
Handful of golden raisins
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, and garlic cloves and saute until they begin to soften and color. Add eggplant and sauté until soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, vinegars, sugar, olives, and capers. Cover and gently simmer over low heat until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh herbs. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and raisins. Toss gently. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Harvest Pumpkin Bread

2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and applesauce in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs, vanilla and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 70-80 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

And though I am too tired to do the recipes for the Pork Tenderloin, you can get the idea from here…

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