INCREDIBLY SIMPLE TIMES FOUR: OCTOBER 2020

It’s been a while since I shared with you recipes that are super simple but tasty enough to justify being featured on a blog post.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #1
EGGS WITH ZA’ATAR AND LEMON

This very simple “recipe” is from a wonderful cookbook called “Falastin.”  Gently boil as many eggs as you want, but just for 6 minutes. The idea is to get the yolk still pretty creamy. Now in a small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, and za’tar. Peel the eggs, and chop them coarsely, drizzle your little sauce and sprinkle salt on top. Amounts are totally flexible, I usually go with 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon olive oil and then improvise.  I don’t know how many times I’ve called this lunch, with Ak-Mak crackers or a slice of sourdough bread. So good!

 

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #2
SMOKY CHICKPEAS

Inspiration for this recipe came from Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea (I adore it). You will need some smoked tea (Lapsang Souchong), but it is totally worth it to get some and keep in your pantry, even if you don’t enjoy it as a regular tea. I use it in chocolate ganache and quite often in cooking. It gives the food a very nice, subtle smoky flavor.

Slice open one bag of smoked tea, mix its contents with some cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Open a can of chickpeas, drain and rinse well. Add into a bowl, drizzle some grape seed oil all over it, add the dry spice mixture and mix.  Spread on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and roast in a 400F oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.  Once again, amounts can be totally eye-balled, no need for precision here. Relax and have fun with it.

 

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #3
AROMATIC BASMATI RICE

I found this gem of a recipe at Spice House website and made it four times in a row. That tells you how much we enjoyed it. It just turns a regular batch of rice into something special.  I made some adjustments to their recipe as I felt that the rice was turning out a bit too underdone for our taste.

AROMATIC BASMATI RICE
(adapted from Spice House)

1 cup Basmati rice, rinsed
1 Tablespoon grape seed oil (or another mild-flavored oil)
5 whole cardamom pods
2-3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
salt to taste
2 cups cold water  

Add oil to a non-stick saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cardamon (you can lightly crush them if you want more flavor), cloves and cinnamon stick to saute briefly. When fragrant, add rice and salt. Saute a minute or so to coat the grains of rice with the flavored oil. Add water, but don’t put the lid on yet.

Once the water boils, turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Cover the pan, and let it cook on very gently heat for 7 more minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit in the pan for 10 minutes before removing the spices and fluffing the rice for serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Make sure to count how many little spice pieces you add to the pan so you can be sure to remove them all, although they are pretty visible on the cooked rice later.  There is so much flavor in this recipe, I guarantee you will be hooked on it.

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INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #4
BAKED SALMON WITH SOY-GINGER GLAZE

BAKED SALMON WITH SOY-GINGER GLAZE
(inspired by At Home with Natalie)

3 salmon filets
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil (do not add more, it is powerful stuff)
salt to taste
sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Place the salmon filets (skin side down) over a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil leave at room temperature while you heat the oven to 350F and reduce the sauce for glazing.

Mix the soy sauce and mirin in a small non-stick saucepan, add the ginger, brown sugar and sesame oil. Simmer gently for a few minutes, until it starts to get a little thicker.   Brush the top of the filets with some of the glaze, season very lightly with salt, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Reserve the rest of the glaze.

Remove the pan from the oven, brush with more glaze and sprinkle sesame seeds. Return to the oven, and cook until done to your liking. Serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

We eat salmon every week, but usually the husband is the seafood cook in our house. I rarely venture into his department, but was tempted to try this very simple preparation. I know I’ll be making it regularly, the only key thing is to get the fish cooked to the exact point you want (which is easier to do with sous-vide, but sometimes it’s nice to simplify things further).  Probe the filet with a paring knife, and remove from the oven when it reaches your personal Nirvana level.

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SMOKED SALMON FAIT MAISON

I love this French expression that makes “home-made” sound a lot more special…  In Paris, they often print it in restaurant menus to indicate that some item – say,  their country paté – is “fait maison.”  In other words, unique. Special. Cannot get anywhere else. And that’s pretty much how I feel about smoked salmon made in our very own electric smoker. If you like the stuff available at the grocery store, you will flip for this. It is so much better, it doesn’t even seem like the same food item. I go as far as saying that buying an electric smoker is worth it just for smoking salmon. And steelhead trout.

SMOKED SALMON WITH BUTTERMILK DRESSING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by many sources)

1 salmon fillet (about 4 pounds)
½ cup seafood dry rub
1 lemon, sliced
½ cup buttermilk dressing

for dry rub (makes more than you need):
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon  paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt

for buttermilk dressing:
½ cup buttermilk
1/4 cup full-fat yogurt
Juice of half lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

Make the dry rub:  In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds, black peppercorns and cloves for 1 to 2 minutes.  Let the mixture cool slightly, then process it thoroughly in a spice grinder and transfer it to a small bowl. Add the paprika, oregano, red pepper flakes, sugar, and salt. Mix thoroughly.  Keep leftovers in a dark, dry place.

Soak 2 cups of wood chips in water for 15 to 30 minutes.  Heat the smoker to 200F.

Pat the salmon dry and let it come to room temperature.  Coat the salmon thoroughly in the dry rub and place it skin-side down on the grates. Scatter the lemon slices over the flesh. Smoke for about 1 hour, or until the flesh flakes easily with a fork.  While the salmon smokes, prepare the buttermilk dressing.

Whisk together the yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, salt, and dill. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. 

Serve the salmon with the buttermilk on the side, or drizzled all over. It’s your call…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Since we acquired the smoker back in December last year, we’ve made this recipe (with or without the buttermilk dressing) countless times.  We simply do not get tired of it. Often we will smoke two pieces, one we remove after 1 hour, and enjoy for dinner. The second piece we allow to smoke for one additional hour or even a little longer. That will be perfect to have over crackers with a bit of sour cream or cream cheese and capers. Or to make salmon rillettes. Or a smoked salmon quiche. Certain dogs love it too…

What makes the smoked salmon ‘fait maison’ so amazing is the texture. Simply cannot beat the texture. It melts in the mouth, and the smoky flavor is just perfect. Subtle. Delicious.

If you do not have a smoker, the closest approximation to this would be a method used by Jacques Pepin, in which you place the salmon on the dish it will be served and stick it in a very low-oven, 200F. You can check it out here. I would then make the same dry rub, but use smoked paprika instead.


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SALMON A LA WELLINGTON, REVISITED


You know you’ve been blogging for a while when you got more than one recipe for Salmon Wellington… My previous take is pretty much our default method, because using phyllo dough considerably reduces the richness of the dish.  We make it regularly. It is interesting how once you keep making a recipe that seems quite involved at first, it becomes so easy to prepare you act as if it’s just like grilling a steak. First weekend of the year (with Salmon Wellington in my mind), I asked Phil if he had any particular recipe he’d been craving. I could not believe my ears when he picked it, almost instantaneously.  That’s when fate worked against us. We could no find phyllo dough at our store. Only phyllo cups. Drove to store number 2. No luck. Plenty of boxes of phyllo cups, empty shelf where the sheets would be. In despair, drove to Wal-Mart, a place I almost never visit. No cigar. Once you have a craving, you have a craving. Puff pastry it would be.  And since we started messing up with our classic, I changed a few more things and here I am to share this new version with you. It turned out excellent, and it might take the default spot for a while… An extra session of aerobics and we’ll be fine.

SALMON WELLINGTON
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

3 pieces of salmon filet, about 6 ounces each)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grapeseed or olive oil
1 large stalk celery, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup cooked crab meat, shredded (from 2 small crab legs)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
1/2 block cream cheese, at room temperature
minced fresh cilantro, to taste
1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted in the fridge for several hours
flour to roll out the pastry
egg wash made with 1 egg, 1 tsp water and a pinch of salt

Heat oven to 375 F (see notes).

Prepare the topping by sauteing the celery and shallot pieces in olive oil over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. When all soft and translucent, transfer to a small bowl to cool down slightly. Add the cream cheese, lemon juice, shredded crab meat and fresh cilantro, mix all gently but well and reserve.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Roll out the puff pastry over a counter top lightly dusted with flour. Try to get it really thin, ideally one sheet should be enough to wrap three small salmon filets. Place the salmon filet over it, make sure it is dry, blot it with paper towels if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper. Place a good portion of cream cheese mixture on top. Wrap the filets with the dough. I actually found it easier to flip the pieces after the photo was taken, so that the filling is on top, and the edges of the pastry meet at the bottom of the parcel.

Cut a slit in the center of the packages. Brush with egg wash. Bake for about 22 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Let it cool slightly and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: A few pointers for success. First, if your pieces of salmon are not uniform in thickness, simply fold the thinner part underneath the piece, to prevent it from getting over-cooked and dry.  Second, roll the puff pastry as thin as you can without tearing it or making it too hard to wrap around the filets. One sheet of puff pastry (Pepperidge Farm in the brand I got) will be enough to wrap three small filets of fish.  Third, do not bake for more than 25 minutes, so that your salmon will still be moist and flavorful. With the pastry rolled thin, it will be long enough to fully bake it. The fish will be perfect inside, protected by the nice layer of crab and cream cheese mixture.

We enjoyed two of these babies at dinner, and next day shared the third one for lunch. I am very picky about eating leftover salmon, rarely find it tasty. This time was an exception, we placed it in the microwave for 2 minutes, to jump-start heating from the center, then immediately transferred it to our small oven at 400F. Worked great, the meat was still perfectly cooked and moist.

This would be a perfect dish for entertaining, as you can assemble it all in advance. When it’s time to eat, place in the oven and get the side dishes ready. Your guests will be impressed, I am sure… And let’s not even forget that Valentine’s Day is coming up fast… Salmon Wellington followed by a little chocolate lava cake sounds like a dream come true. Although we all know that real dreams are made of macarons…

NOTE ADDED AFTER PUBLICATION: A reader made this recipe and found that cooking at 400F works better because the puff pastry will benefit from it. If you shorten the time to 21 minutes in the oven, you won’t have over-cooked salmon and the puff pastry will be gorgeous.  So consider that change.  Thanks blackbird for the feedback…

Dinner is served!
Salmon Wellington, buttered asparagus, fresh oysters, a little Caesar salad…

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SALMON WELLINGTON

I have the great pleasure of introducing another guest post by my beloved husband!

Although I’d like to say that Beef Wellington is everyone’s festive delicacy, that’s surely a falsehood, because for many, many people filet of beef is a profanity, and its accoutrement, foie gras, is an atrocity. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but  Sally and I don’t share those sentiments. We love the Wellingon! We love it so much that we sought other variants.  The one that we found, or in this case it’s even fair to say “invented,” is Salmon Wellington. Concocting a salmon Wellington is a bit like making an exquisite ham sandwich: you can garnish it with cheese or mustard or lettuce, or all three and more.   So, we created our own variation of the dish, that includes Alaskan snow crab and a phyllo dough shell.  It’s a light, …(OK, lighter)  and a fresh experience that’s still rich with flavor.
plated111SALMON WELLINGTON
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

2 pieces of center-cut filet of salmon, skin removed
1/2 cup of Alaskan crab meat, cooked and shredded
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
1 celery stalk, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp fresh dill, minced
salt and pepper to taste
6 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
melted butter

Heat the oil in a small skillet and saute the shallots and celery in medium-low heat until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Add the lemon zest and turn the heat off.  Transfer to a small bowl and allow it to cool to lukewarm or room temperature.   Mix the veggies with cooked crab meat, add the ginger and dill, mix well and season with salt and pepper.

To prepare the fish,  buy a thick piece of  fresh atlantic or wild salmon and cut it into 3″ by 4″ pieces, or a bit larger if you desire.   Remove the skin with a sharp knife (I prefer a ceramic knife for this) and carefully scrape away the central vein of dark, oily meat.  Rinse the filet under running water and dry it on paper towels.

Open the sheets of phyllo dough, 2 at a time, and brush them lightly with melted butter (you can also use olive oil if you prefer). Lay 6 sheets on top of each other and place half of the crab mixture over the center, leaving a large border all around.  Try to spread the crab mixture to cover more or less the same area that the salmon will occupy.   Lay the salmon filet on top, season with salt and pepper, and squeeze a small amount of lemon juice over it.  Wrap the phyllo dough around the filet.  Invert the package, so that the crab is on top, and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cut away any excess dough.  Brush a little melted butter on top of the phyllo, and bake at 375 F for 25 minutes, until golden brown.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  As Phil said, we LOVE the Wellington, it is probably our “signature dish”, the one we turn to when we want to make a special meal. In fact, it was the first recipe we cooked together when we started dating, we even made the puff pastry from scratch.  Fun times… 😉 This variation is quickly becoming my favorite, though. Salmon and phyllo dough make a winning combination, and the crab meat doesn’t hurt either.  Over the years,  we’ve made Salmon Wellington with many different toppings. Once, while living in Paris we made it for our Valentine’s dinner.  Phil came up with a topping using a citric fruit similar to clementines, that was in season at the time.  It was outstanding!  Come to think of it, Valentine’s Day is not far away, and this would be a great meal for the occasion!

sliced22

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OVEN-BROILED SALMON OVER SAUCY SPINACH

A lightning-fast dinner to prepare, your best friend on a busy weeknight! At first, I wanted to call it “Healthy Salmon Dinner” or something along those lines, but I am a bit tired of the constant labeling of recipes as “healthy” or “good for you.”  Anything can be good for you if approached the right way.   A slice of apple pie?  No problem.  A slice of apple pie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream drenched in caramel sauce, after a dinner of fried chicken with biscuits and gravy?  Well, not your best option, but if you do it only once in a blue moon, even that is not a crime!  Eat sensibly and enjoy your food…  😉

For this dish, I combined two different recipes, one from Fine Cooking, another  from Food and Wine. As you may have noticed, I cook often from both publications, love them!  Joining salmon, spinach, kalamatas, and raisins might seem like a stretch, but we were both swooning over our plates. Since a little starch never hurt anyone, I made some orzo perfumed with lemon zest as a side dish. Awesome dinner!

FIVE-SPICE GLAZED SALMON WITH WILTED SPINACH
(adapted from Fine Cooking & Food and Wine magazines)

4 salmon filets, skin on
1/4 cup honey
4 tsp soy sauce
1 + 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
3 bunches of spinach (16 to 18 oz)
1 shallot, diced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, halved or diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the honey, soy, and five-spice powder in a small bowl, mixing it all well. Put the pieces of salmon, skin side down, on a plate or baking dish just large enough to hold them side by side.  Pour the honey mixture over the salmon, flip them over, so that the skin is now up.   Let them sit in this honey glaze for 15 minutes as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Meanwhile, turn your oven broiler on.

Place a colander over a bowl or plate near your stove top. Pour a little water on a large non-stick skillet set on medium-high heat.  When the water is very hot, add half of the spinach leaves, and move them around quickly using tongs until they start to wilt.  Transfer them to the colander, and wilt the rest of the spinach leaves the same way. Add them to the colander, and wipe the skillet dry.

Start broiling the salmon.  Place the pieces skin side down on a baking dish lined with foil and slightly coated with a spray of olive oil to prevent sticking.  Brush the top of the salmon with a little of the honey glaze, saving the rest in a small bowl.  Total broiling time will be 5 to 6 minutes, depending on how thick your filets are, and how you like them cooked.

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in the skillet, when the oil is very hot add the shallots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the kalamata olives, the raisins, stir them all together for a minute or so. Add the spinach, toss around to warm up, squeeze a little lemon juice all over, and season with salt and pepper.  Remove the spinach mixture to a serving platter, add another squeeze of lemon juice to the honey glaze in the small bowl, add to the skillet over medium heat, until it bubbles and heats through.   Place the broiled salmon over the bed of spinach, drizzle with the honey marinade, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  You know those bags of baby spinach that sell in the grocery store for 4 bucks (or more), and you must cook at least two bags to feed you and your partner?  You don’t need those.  😉  Recently, a remark by  Rachael Ray in one of her shows perked my interest.  She said that those humble looking spinach bundles, tied together with a  nasty metal string, will work nicely in many preparations.

I got three of those – each for $1.30 – and was very pleased by how they wilted but kept some structure and a more intense taste than their organic baby cousins.   Simply use a large knife and cut them above the string very close to the leaves, to get rid of all the stem part (compost those, if you can).  Drop the leaves in a large bowl (or sink) full of water, swirl them around a few times, and dry in a salad spinner.  They are ready to use.

The salmon – my first time oven-broiling it, by the way – cooked to perfection, the honey in the marinade giving it that irresistible copper tone, and the spinach combined with the olives and raisins, raised the bar of this meal quite a bit.  If you are watching your carbs intake, you can always omit the orzo.

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