Monday, March 19, 2012

NOT YOUR 60's COMMUNE KITCHEN - Halibut from Portland's Higgins Restaurant & Bar

(Halibut w/ Citrus Couscous, Red Onion Marmalade
And Cilantro-Almond Sauce)

OK, I’m a child of the 60’s… cooking together is what you did if you lived on a commune and grew your own vegetables.  You smoked dope, wore love beads and wore flowers in your hair.  You made compost.  You macramé-d and threw whatever you grew into one pot and stirred. Or, a few years later, you watched the kitchen scene in “The Big Chill” where former children of the 60’s cooked together, danced and, yes, smoked dope, and thought how fun that looked.  Then you went home and cooked alone.

How things have changed.  Food has trended even before “trending” became a “trend” in some twitterer’s head.  Now, we share a 95 point bottle of cab instead of a joint.  Gourmet groups have sprung up all over the country along with farmers’ markets, and organic food has become a big buck industry.  I’ve often wondered if any of the old commune hippies grew up to be the farmers at those farmers’ markets.

As Richard and I fell into the foodie tsunami, we were participants in gourmet groups for years, but these groups never cooked together.  Each couple would bring their assigned dish prepared in their own kitchen.  Yes, at times, we might have had to sauté something last minute in that dinner’s host kitchen, or nuke something – but we all cooked in our own homes - that is until we were invited to a recent dinner party where the hosts, Ron and Gail, and guests would all cook together.  A commune kitchen.

A commune, communal kitchen – yes.  But, no way was this a “commune” kitchen like the ones I experienced in the 60’s.  This one had beautiful dark wood cabinetry, granite counter tops and stainless appliances.  And the kitchen wasn’t in a “farmhouse” in the middle of nowhere, but a lovely home on a suburban, hillside street in Bel Air.  No one wore tie-dye.

Ron and Gail are new friends and, as we began to prep the meal, Ron poured some of that 95 point fine wine and we all helped ourselves to cheese and crackers.   

The idea to cook together was Gail’s and, after thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it’s really a perfect way to get to know people… especially ones who like to cook, because I get to sample everything as it comes off the stove or out of the oven.

As we made a simple appetizer of cream cheese topped with cocktail sauce and shrimp, we did just that.  

We dove in as we talked, chopped and diced, spiced...

    and blended...

  and as a result, some of our pasts were shared and blended as well as the sauces we were cooking.

The first course was a lemony asparagus soup which simmered as Richard and his sous chefs, Gail and Eleanor, made the main course of halibut w/ citrus couscous, red onion marmalade and cilantro-almond sauce. 

We didn’t dance around the kitchen as they did in “The Big Chill,” but we all bonded over fresh asparagus and cilantro.



  • Marmalade:
  •  1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup port or other sweet red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of black pepper
  • Sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (about 2 large.  This is optional. Richard does not use them)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled 

         3/4 cup water
         1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon chile paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • Halibut:
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinned halibut fillets (about 1 inch thick)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups gourmet salad greens


  1. To prepare marmalade, combine first 4 ingredients in a small non-aluminum saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 5 minutes). Add onion and 1 teaspoon orange rind; cook 5 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and dash of black pepper; set aside.
  2. To prepare sauce, combine cilantro and next 9 ingredients (cilantro through peeled garlic) in a blender or food processor; process until smooth.
  3. To prepare couscous, bring 3/4 cup water and next 9 ingredients (water though minced garlic) to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  4. To prepare the halibut, combine curry and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Rub the fillets with curry mixture. Lightly coat with cooking spray. 
  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add fillets, and sauté 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Place 1/2 cup salad greens on each of 4 plates, and top each serving with 1 cup couscous. Arrange fillets on top of couscous, and top with 2 tablespoons marmalade. Spoon 1/4 cup sauce around plate. 

Around the candlelit dining room table, Gail and Ron, Eleanor and Thomas, and Richard and I continued to sip wine and share stories about ourselves as we proudly shared the meal we prepared.

Then it was time for dessert.  A dreamy traditional cheesecake smothered in blueberries that Gail had made the day before… 

the perfect dish to end a fun and delicious way to spend an evening with new or old friends.

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