Bright Food for Dreary Days

By on May 2, 2018

Even if it’s grey outside, you can liven up the inside with these flavors

Stave off the shoulder season blues with summertime food. (Helen Goelet)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The mud season has arrived, pushing winter warriors away and clearing the streets. For many, this is a time for exploration and travel. Others are resetting at home and enjoying the fleeting solitude around town.

The shoulder season arrives twice a year but it seemed to hit harder than normal this spring. It’s not news that the valley’s housing crisis continues to soar. Friends have reported to me that landlords are raising their rents by at least $100 with no additional modifications or renovations. Now, more folks are leaving for Drictor, Alpine or much farther.

While hotels spring up from the ground and the dining scene grows, the question remains: Who’s here to work? Sure, each off-season we see restaurants turn out the lights before the RVs start rolling in. This season, however, the number of dark eateries is more noticeable than years past.

“I would have liked to keep the doors open all off-season as per usual,” Chef Tim Conan of The Rose said. “But honestly, we just don’t have the staff for it.”

The Rose has since reopened since Conan and I spoke.

Other restaurant managers agreed with Conan, including general manager of Glorietta Trattoria Chuck Greenwald.

“It’s the same story every off-season,” said Greenwald, shaking his head, “I just can’t think about it too much otherwise I won’t sleep a wink.”

Of course, many Jackson’s eateries will be back up and running, offering two-for-ones for their loyal patrons, within days or weeks. By June, the hope is that most positions will be filled, perhaps with transient summer workers.

For now, restaurant closures—and grey weather—inspire me to play with comforting flavors that remind me of summer days on the porch.

One such dish is marinated and grilled swordfish with pineapple salsa. The flavors are fresh and clean, and even if it’s sleeting outside, I’ll take any excuse to fire up the grill.

Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa

Serves 4

For the marinade

4 Swordfish steaks (6-8 ounces)

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup neutral oil such as canola or coconut

zest and juice of one orange

2 T Gochujang paste

2 T fresh grated ginger

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients and marinate for one hour.

For the salsa

1 red bell pepper, small dice

1 red onion, fine dice

1 clove garlic, fine dice

1/2-1 pineapple (depending on size), small dice

1 fresno pepper (jalepeno works too) fine dice

Juice of 1 lime (2 depending on size/juice)

1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped

pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients and let sit until serving.

Chocolate Babkas

Twist and shout for babkas.

If you’re ready to take on a two-day baking project, try a traditional Middle Eastern sweet bread. This Smitten Kitchen recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, is one of my favorites.

Yield: 2 loaf-sized chocolate babkas

Dough

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons instant yeast

Grated zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange

3 large eggs

1/2 cup water

3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

Sunflower or other neutral oil for greasing

Filling

4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold is fine

Scant 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Syrup

1/3 cup water

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough until it comes together. If it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. You can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.

Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day or overnight.

Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired. [If you’re wondering what happened to the pecans and granulated sugar, see my third note below.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1kg) loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge. Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, 10 to 12 inches.

Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. Repeat with second dough.

Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty).

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1.5 hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an under-baked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If your babka needs more time, put it back 5 minutes at a time.

While babkas are baking, make the syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They freeze and defrost well. PJH

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