I’m writing this blog after a succession of recipe “fails” that has me wondering if I should be writing recipes at all. They weren’t epic fails, but when you botch a birthday cake, Christmas cookies and sugar cookies within a few weeks, it’s enough to shake your confidence. Then I think about why I started Love and Duck Fat in the first place. One of the reasons was to challenge myself to learn something new. When you challenge yourself, there are usually failures involved, or it wouldn’t be a challenge.
Baking (and dessert making in general) is hard for me. Why? It requires precision. I spent years as an artist learning to embrace happy accidents, paint drips, imprecise lines and sloppy paint. This is very hard to do when you are trained from childhood to color within the lines. I learned to love imprecision because it was more beautiful, wild and freeing. Even to the viewer’s eyes. That is what I wanted to aspire to in art, and I can’t say I ever got there, but I was close.
Baking is just the opposite. It requires exact measurements, precise cooking times and a perfectly steady hand if you want your decorating to look anything close to edible. So I challenge myself with chocolate pumpkin cakes, but I am the first to admit baking is not my forte.
I am embracing my fails as learning experiences and moving on, albeit in a direction I’m more comfortable: seafood.
I was able to get my hands on a gorgeous fillet of wild Sockeye salmon, and paired it with a creamy dill sauce, black Beluga lentils and sautéed leeks. I love the color of the salmon against the dramatic black of the lentils, similar to another recipe where I paired salmon with black rice. The Beluga lentils are a little more expensive and hard to find (buy them on Amazon). They are round in appearance and glisten like caviar, thus the name. You can substitute French green or brown lentils, and the taste will be just as good.
Bring the lentils, vegetable broth, and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Add the garlic clove and bay leaf. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender-firm. Drain and return to the pan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep warm and covered.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the leeks. I like to cut them in half crosswise, and then quarter them lengthwise, into strips. Wash them well in cold water to make sure all the sand is removed. Dry well before cooking.
Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the leeks and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or more, turning every few minutes. You want them to brown slightly and become very soft. Sprinkle with salt and taste.
Pat salmon dry and season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil or butter on medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. When hot, place the salmon in the skillet, skin-side-down. Place a sprig of dill on each piece. Cook the salmon for 4 minutes, then turn. Cook another 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of each piece, and how you prefer to serve. Remove to a plate.
Pour the white wine into the hot pan. Add the minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cream and cook for another 2-5 minutes, until the mixture is thickened and creamy. Add the chopped dill and lemon juice. Season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this post contains an affiliate link to a product I purchased and used myself. I recommend this product. If you decide to buy any of these items, I may be able to buy a cheap cup of coffee someday from the commission I receive.
Oyster stuffing is a favorite of mine. It’s a tradition in my family, and this recipe takes it up a notch with shiitake mushrooms and leeks. It’s basically a combination of some of my favorite things, in one rich – yet delicate – dish.
If you grew up along the coast, like I did. Raw oysters are an initiation of sorts. You are an adult if you eat them. If you eat them, you crave them. You covet them.
When I looked online for oyster stuffing recipes, I was a little mortified. Canned oysters? Why on earth would anyone use canned oysters? I know a lot of people do, and I don’t want to turn my nose up at the stuff (I know, I kind of am). I won’t hate you if you use them, but the fresh oysters you find in the refrigerated seafood section are so much better. Ridiculously better. They are sweet and briny and smell like the ocean, not fishy. The fresher your oysters, the less fishy the stuffing.
The way I see it, you only make oyster stuffing once a year. It’s a special occasion, so let’s do the right thing and splurge on the good stuff. If you really want to go all out, get a couple dozen fresh oysters, take them home and shuck them yourself (saving some to eat right away, of course).
There is too much of a good thing, though. One Thanksgiving, my mother decided to double the amount of oysters in her stuffing. She stuffed the turkey and after an hour or so, the whole house smelled like fishy turkey. It permeated the bird, the gravy, the stuffing. We tease her about it every Thanksgiving.
Very slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2000
Preheat oven to 325° F/165° C
First, you need to dry out the bread. Arrange it in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, until crisp, dry and golden brown. This can be prepared ahead. You could also use stale bread and skip the baking step.
Butter a casserole dish. In a skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Saute the mushrooms in the butter until they turn brown and their liquid evaporates. Remove them from the skillet and add to a large bowl.
Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and cook the celery and leeks. Cook the vegetables 8-10 minutes, until they are tender.
Add the celery, leeks, parsley and herbs to the large bowl with the mushrooms. Season with salt and fresh pepper. Toss to combine.
Add bread cubes to the vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.
Add the oysters, oyster liquid and turkey stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. Transfer to the casserole dish and cover with foil. You can chill until you are ready to bake. Bake the stuffing covered for 45 minutes.