Hooks for Cooks™

I am a big fan of Nordic Ware products. I have a large array of bundt pans, baking pans, and specialty items. I recently tested the Nordic Ware tartlet baking pan and was very impressed with the results. I received the pan as a sample from my editor at Amazon.

When I got the pan home, I was impressed with the weight of the pan and with the smooth nonstick finish on the pan. However,  I was skeptical as to whether the pastry dough recipe, which was included with the pan,  would make enough.  My skepticism was soon squashed. I made the dough according to the directions on the package and the amount was exactly right. Once baked, each tartlet shell slipped right out of the pan. The fluted edges on each tartlet added a nice touch. The pan was a snap to clean.

So if you like to make impressive things like mini tarts and pecan tassies for the holidays, you might get one of these pans. Made in America, they are truly superb.

 –Melissa A. Trainer

Alaska King CrabDo you have an awesome fish taco recipe that you’ve created yourself and wins rave reviews from family, friends, and coworkers?

If so, then seriously consider entering it in the First Ever Wild Alaska Fish Taco Recipe contest, which runs from now until January 31, 2011. The requirements, of course, specify that you must use at least one species of wild Alaska seafood. The entries will be judged on taste, creativity, and ease of preparation.

The Grand Prize winner will be awarded a 3-day/2-night trip to sunny Santa Monica and will have the wonderful privilege of serving their winning taco on Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill Taco Truck as they travel around.

If you need to fish for specific information on Wild Alaska seafood, be sure to use this website as your key resource on species, availability, cooking techniques, and nutritional information. It ’s a big pond up there, so you’d better get your ducks in order and start crafting that winning recipe NOW!

Photo of Alaska King Crab by Melissa A. Trainer

–Melissa A. Trainer

Wild Alaska SalmonOh my.

It has been ages since I’ve posted here. It was a busy summer!  I’ve been posting regularly at Amazon’s Al Dente blog, so here’s the link to my contributor’s page. In the last few months, I’ve written nearly sixty posts so there’s lots to read.

Recently, I reviewed the NEW KitchenAid Pasta Press, which is a nice product. It’s a bit challenging getting the hang of this  Italian-made product, but once I got the hang of it and discovered the right recipe, I found it pretty easy to crank out tubular  pastas, such as rigatoni, bucatini, spaghetti, and macaroni.  

I’ve also recently “tested” Reynolds Wrap Non-Stick Aluminum foil, which is quite handy for sticky situations such as high heat roasting, grilling and baking.

With Halloween just around the corner and the holidays looming, I’m wondering if Americans are in a pumpkin panic or if they are wising up and using more pumpkin in order to improve their diets. I was at Costco yesterday and was astonished to see lots of Libby’s canned pumpkin being pushed out the door. 

Over the summer,  we spent one Sunday afternoon filleting and vacuum packing 100 pounds of wild Alaska keta for our freezer. This task ignited my curiousity and launched me into a research project. I wrote about this affordable wild salmon for The Oregonian’s FOODday section. Here’s the link to that article, which is entitlted “Northwest Keta Is A Salmon For All Reasons.”

Stay tuned because I will be actively posting here again. Thanks for continually visiting the site!  I appreciate all my unique loyal visitors!

Rhubarb PieWho can resist a pie that looks like this?

I made  this lattice crust rhubarb pie yesterday when I attended Kate McDermott’s Art of The Pie class down at Diane’s Market Kitchen. When it comes to pie, Kate is the task master.

Self taught in the art of pie making, Kate generously and graciously shares the tips and tricks she has developed over the years. Her pie dough recipe was developed over time and has been featured in many local and national media forums.

It was a wonderful experience and you can reall all about it in  my post, published on Amazon’s Al Dente blog today.

Darina's Nectarine JamTomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day and it is also the day that Darina Allen’s new book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, will be released.

As many of you know, I attended Darina’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland about 6 years ago. I wrote about it for The New York Times Travel Section.

For my full review on the book, please see my post on Amazon’s Al Dente blog.  The book is a treasure trove and much of the content is gleaned from Darina’s experience teaching her Forgotten Skills classes at the school. If you want to know how to forage, can, preserve, dry, butcher, cure, or pluck, this is the book to get. Additionally, if you enjoy gorgeous photos be sure to take note of those in the book. Taken by Peter Cassidy, they truly reflect the delicious essence of Ballymaloe!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Wild Alaska King CrabThe boys in my house love to watch the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. I watch the show, but I shudder at the magnitude of the job and the task at hand.

We lived in Anchorage a few years ago and I vividly remember watching the show one January evening. 

The wind was howling, and the snow was piling up outside our windows.  The outdoor temps must have hovered around 10 degrees, and I was still chilled from picking the kids up from ice skating that day.

As I watched the crab crews pull their pots and battle the elements on that episode of Deadliest Catch, I gained an understanding of just how hard their job truly is. To be honest, the feeling was rather surreal for me. 

 I’ve cooked Alaskan King crab many times since that cold dark night four years ago, so when I found yesterday’s article in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, I decided to feature it here.  The article, which was written by Louis Garcia, notes that the snow crab season is set to launch by the middle of January and will wrap up some time in the spring.   The quotas are  lower this year for a variety of reason.

I can find fresh and frozen Alaska King Crab easily here in Seattle, but I haven’t seen a lot of snow, or opilio, crab in these parts. Curious, I decided to email Forrest Bowers.  Based in Dutch Harbor and quoted in the article, Bowers is the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island Area Management Biologist. I asked him  to explain the difference between the two species and to please tell me where the snow crab is generally distributed.

He replied via email stating that live weight snow crabs average 1.1 to 1.4 pounds and are significantly smaller than  Bristol Bay king crabs which average about 6 to 7 pounds.  Snow crabs have four pairs of legs and a pair of claws, while king crabs have merely three pairs of legs and a set of claws. 

 Bowers clarified that he wasn’t an expert on market distribution, but mentioned  that the snow crabs often go to Japan.  Here in the US, the snow crabs generally land in family style seafood spots such as Red Lobster.  The king crabs, he explained, head for the high end white tablecloth markets.

mini tomatoesI’ve been posting more frequently over at Amazon’s Al Dente blog lately. And, this morning, I posted a pitch for The New Doubleday Cookbook.

I’ve had this book for fifteen years now so it isn’t exactly  “new,”  but it’s a timeless resource that I turn to again and again. I constantly pull this culinary “encyclopedia” off the shelf and find it useful for all sorts of needs such as freezing, roasting, baking, and researching. 

When I’m faced with a glut of garden produce, I rely on this book to tell me how to store, preserve, and freeze the goods.  The book’s recipe for Southern Pecan Pie is the only pecan pie recipe I make. And, I find the recipe for Blondies to be very quick, easy, and delicious. If you don’t have the 900- page book, check  it out.

To see this post and others that I’ve recently written over at Al Dente, click here.

All American MealsIt’s time for my culinary year in review.

Now that it’s January, I like to go through my mental file cabinet and revisit some of  my taste memories from the prior year. 

It’s also when I like to make mental predictions about the year ahead.  I ask  myself, what was my most special meal for 2009?   What will the relevant trends be for 2010?

While enjoying my coffee this morning, I read The Seattle Times’s Pacific Northwest magazine’s Taste Column. Written by Greg Atkinson and entitled “State of the Art,” the article essentially covers some of Seattle’s top chefs and a dinner they enjoyed last  April at Canlis Restaurant.

The article also quotes Ruth Reichl, the former Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine, and presents her opinion.  Overall, the article tries to predict how Seattle’s high end restaurants will manage in the current economic environment. Of course, any predictions in today’s economy are dicey at best. 

The article, however, did remind me to review a meal I had at Ray’s Boathouse a couple weeks ago. Ray’s has always been one of my favorite restaurants  in town. (See my 1997 NY Times review.) And, yes, our once-a-year meal there was lovely.    However, our  meal  for two with wine, appetizers, main courses, and a dessert, set our personal checkbook back nearly $200.  Our dinner was a very special treat  and, of course, we will try to return again next December to happily support a top notch local business.

This morning, I also started to think about one of my favorite meals for 2009. It’s funny, because this meal didn’t take place in a fine dining room. There was no trendy china. There were no fancy paintings on the walls or elaborate wine lists. There was a picnic table, a fire pit, and our 23-foot travel trailer parked nearby.

The meal took place on the Washington Coast at our favorite Washington State Park. Our children were racing around on bikes, and the weather was sublime. The Pacific Ocean roared behind the dunes. The table was set with a blue and white checked oil cloth, and the plates were paper.  The wine was being stashed in our large Coleman cooler, and locally purchased wild salmon was being wrapped in Reynolds foil.   Pacific oysters, purchased just that day from Brady’s Oyster Farm and covered with barnacles, were gently sizzling and spitting over the wood burning fire. 

Was my most memorable meal fancy or expensive? No.  Was it satisfying, delicious, and eaten communally by adults and children alike? Absolutely. Without a doubt, I think 2010 will see more basic family friendly meals being served in simple all-American locales.

Happy New Year!

What Did You Cook Yesterday?

December 2nd, 2009

As a mother of three kids, I’m constantly cooking and cranking out an assortment of food. Yet, my kids often complain that there’s nothing to eat.

I often remind them just how much effort it takes to shop for the food, put it away, cook it and then serve it. I love to cook and don’t mean to sound like a complainer,  but I’m often shocked at how quickly the food disappears. To remind myself that I did indeed cook a plethora of healthy foods yesterday, I just made up this little list while eating a little spinach salad…

Menu for 12/1/09


Fried eggs and toast or bagels for all

Whizzed Fruit smoothie  in the Vitamix to serve 2

Made  Coffee and tea for adults

Brown Bag Lunches at 7 AM

Pureed smoked salmon and cream cheese spread  in Cuisinart

Assembled Tortilla pinwheels using smoked salmon spread and cold smoked salmon

Assembled   Turkey, Ham,  and Cheese Wrap Up

Assembled Ham with mustard on white, crusts removed

Cut up carrots and celery packed with ranch on the side

Midday and Afterschool

Made Spinach and Avocado Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette for me

Prepared two large pasta casseroles

Cleaned Romaine lettuce for Caesar Salad for dinner

Made a vat of hot cocoa using 2%  milk, cocoa, sugar and vanilla

The Revolving Dinner Hour

Baked one of the casseroles on slow in the oven while chauffering kids

Tossed Caesar Salad

Cut up raw veggies for snack

Heated dinner rolls

Assembled another Spinach Salad

Late Night Snack Time

Hard boiled 8 eggs for egg salad/Made egg salad in food processor

Reheated Sweet Potato Lentil Curry Soup (Made Monday Night)

Puffed 5 Naan individually in cast iron skillet

Served egg salad as a snack in a wrap up

Reheated Turkey and White Bean Soup (Made in Slow Cooker on Monday)

So, what did you cook yesterday???

Savory Hand Pies for the Boys

November 25th, 2009

My Savory Hand PiesMy sons were off from school this week due to parent teacher conferences. Ah, what a week to have the boys underfoot!

So, yesterday, we decided to head down to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, which is located in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. After a stroll through the exhibits, I took the boys over to The Elliott Bay Book Company around the corner.  We poked around and purchased three nice books. But, it was the Elliott Bay Cafe, located downstairs, that intrigued the boys. They hadn’t eaten for a whole two hours, so they thought it was time for a little sustenance.

Downstairs, we ambled over to the pastry counter where my older son immediately wanted a Hand Pie.  Will loves calzones and stuffed pastries so this savory pastry was right up his alley. Stuffed with Italian sausage, pepper, provolone, and some scrambled egg, Will thought it would make a great midmorning snack. We asked to have it heated and after the first bite, he was begging for a second order. 

I obliged and soon realized that the two pies set me back nearly  $11. I don’t mind paying for quality, but with an adolescent boy inhaling the artwork in one or two bites, I realized I’d better have a taste and learn to replicate them at home. When I paid for the second pie, I asked about the crust (cream cheese pastry I was told) and about the contents ( egg, sausage, peppers, provolone for today, I was told).

This morning, I attempted the replication. Indeed, I was able to do it, and Will declared my hand pies on the mark. I had made my favorite cream cheese pastry recipe last night.  This morning, I removed the casing from two Italian sausages and browned the meat in a pan. I added some finely diced pepper and two beaten eggs. This was set aside for a few minutes to cool while I rolled out the pastry dough into five-inch disks.  The cooled filling went onto one side of the disk. I folded over the pastry, crimped the edge, and brushed it with beaten egg.  Then I baked the pies on a baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes at 400 F.  Quick and easy.  A snack really…

I think I’ll be making more hand pies in the near future. They are such a nice way to use up those odd bits and bobs that accumulate in the fridge…

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