Dinner, last night and tonight, with commentary on cookbook grammar and farmer’s market vendors

Dinner last night was superb: King Salmon teriyaki and a side of Zingy Cucumber salad.

The salmon was incredibly easy to make. I started by making Teriyaki sauce a la Mark Bittman: half soy sauce and half mirin, simmered, tossing in some minced garlic and ginger near the end. When the sauce was ready, I put in the fish, skin up, and turned it every couple of minutes until it was done, which was more than five minutes and fewer than ten. After plating the fish, I spooned some sauce on top, and put a dollop of the cucumber salad on the side.

The secret to making the salmon spectacular was the fish itself. Frequently at the Farmer’s Market I’ll buy from Cape Cleare, who for some reason I’ve decided I prefer. (I think it’s the availability of smaller fillets, actually: usually a half-pound fillet is enough for me and Laura to share for dinner.)

This week, I bought from Wilson Fish, who I really like about equally with Cape Cleare except for the typical absence of smaller fillets. This week, I got a King Salmon fillet that weighed in at a bit more than three-fourths of a pound. They landed the fish Saturday; I purchased it Sunday; and we ate it Monday. It might be one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever had, and the teriyaki was nice without being overwhelming.

The Zingy Cucumber Salad was direct out of Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table. The cucumbers are sliced and tossed with red onion, rice vinegar, bell pepper, and red pepper flakes. I do two things differently: first, I add celery seeds (which I believe that Ms. Casey does at Dish D’Lish though it’s not in the cookbook), and Laura and I prefer smoky chipotle flakes to regular red pepper flakes. This week, we went to the U District Farmer’s market, where I picked up Japanese cucumbers from Mair Farm-Taki. They’re spectacularly sweet and crunchy. (Mair Farm-Taki also grows the most spectacular Japanese plums, apricots, and other tasty treats. I wish they came to the Ballard Farmer’s market, so I could shop there every week!)

Tonight was simpler: pasta with zucchini, basil, and lemon. This recipe comes from Moosewood Cooks at Home, and is pretty much what it says: pasta cooked and tossed with cheese and the other three ingredients.

Despite this dish being trivial to make, I still always feel uncomfortable following any of the Moosewood cookbooks. I’m not a good enough cook yet to describe precisely what I’m talking about, but most recipes have distinct stages: (usually implied) prep the ingredients; initial browning of meats and/or vegetables; slow cooking or other long-term process; and then a final stage involving mixing the cooked ingredients, maybe last-minute reheating, garnishing, and serving.

In most recipes the interior steps also follow set, recognizable patterns. Most cookbooks these days will go over each step in precise detail, but it’s not hard to abstract out what the recipe is trying to do: here, you’re roasting; there, you’re braising; you’re making a brown sauce; you’re reducing stock. Somehow, I find that the Moosewood recipes lack the cues that explain to me what exactly I’m doing and why. If I follow Moosewood’s steps, the recipe will usually turn out all right, but I don’t understand what I did or how it worked.

It’s as though they’re speaking using the same words I’m used to, but without any established notions of grammar. Perhaps there’s an interior grammar that I don’t follow but would if I used the Moosewood cookbooks often enough. Or perhaps not. And perhaps the absence of this implicit order is what makes the cookbook so approachable for some people.

Tomorrow night it’s bruschetta: the first farmer’s market tomatoes of the season, with fresh mozzarella from River Valley Ranch and basil, all on top of a baguette from The Tall Grass Bakery. Thursday and Friday night we’re out, and Saturday night it’ll be homemade pizza, probably with pepperoni from Olsen Farms. They’re one of my favorite farms at the market, due in no small part to their fabulous potatoes (just a few more weeks!) and the most wonderful folks imaginable.