In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sixty-fifth Post ~ Salmon with Zesty Avocado-Peach Salsa

While searching for healthy yet filling summer dinner recipes, I happened upon a recipe for grilled salmon over mango salsa.

Now, I neither possess a grill nor a penchant for mangoes, so I decided to mix the original recipe up a little. And then I kinda got carried away "customizing" it to my personal tastes and preferences. So here's what I ended up needing for tonight's meal, when all was said and done:

(Note that I am preparing this for two, but if preparing it for one, I would make it exactly the same way but with one salmon fillet - I feel that the salsa would be wonderfully accompanied by tortilla chips for lunch the following day)

~ 1 or 2 salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
~ 1 large ripe Haas avocado
~ 2 peaches* (or one monster peach, which is what I ended up with!)
~ 2 roma tomatoes*
~ 1 jalapeño*
~ 1 lime
~ fresh cilantro
~ 1 can corn*
~ two scallions*
~ 1 clove of garlic

The asterisks indicate ingredients that I "customized" - I substituted peaches for mangoes, one and a half roma tomatoes for cherry tomatoes, a jalapeño that I seeded first rather than packing in all that heat, added a half a can of corn to give it a little more oomph, and scallions instead of onions, as they are a little milder in taste.

Set aside some time before you're actually going to bake the salmon. The salsa is best if it sits and melds for a bit. This dinner is quite easy to make, but it requires a bit of chopping, slicing and dicing. It is a task made much easier with the proper tools - in this case, a chef's knife, a paring knife, a peeling knife, and kitchen scissors, all direct from the beautiful knife set my dad gave me as a Christmas gift!

So time to get your get your slice 'n' dice on!

I started with the avocado.

:: PAUSE ::

Now here's a strange habit, but I'm going to share it with you, dear readers: my 60-second avocado hand treatment. Whenever I make anything with avocado, I end up with a ton of it on my hands. Instead of washing it off immediately, I rub the avocado all over my hands, then rinse it off under warm running water and towl my hands dry. It leaves my skin amazingly smooth. I also end up smelling a bit like an avocado, but there are trade-offs in life.


So after [ahem] dealing with the avocado, I diced up the peach, squeezing the juice out of the peel into the bowl. Next went the romas. I scooped out a little of the tomato "innards" first. I used my kitchen scissors to snip in a good handful of cilantro - which has to be one of my favorite fresh herbs next to thyme and basil. I added about half of a small can of corn, the scallions (which I snipped into the bowl rather than cut), a crushed clove of garlic, the juice of one lime, and the jalapeño.


Sorry. But this merits saying. I have a medium-to-moderate spicy tolerance. I can eat jalapeños, but only in very small quantities - and I'm best if their seeded first. All the heat of a pepper resides in the seeds and inside pulp, so I scooped it out with the smaller end of a melon-baller (a trick I learned at one of Meg's Pampered Chef parties!) and then, with a very sharp paring knife, minced the bugger. Actually, I only added half of it to the salsa, reserving the other half in a prep bowl so that it could be added later by someone else who may have a higher spicier index than I...

And then I attempted to add the zest of lime. It turns out I lack a zester. I thought I had one; perhaps it was a dream. In any case, I decided to attempt to use a cheese grater. Remember what I had said about the right tools making a job really simple? Well, the wrong tool can really complicate things. Thankfully I was working over a prep bowl and NOT the salsa, as I ended up grating a good deal of my own knuckle along with the lime on my first pass down the grater. So there is no lime zest in this salsa. No blood, either.


So now you've got all your ingredients in the salsa - toss it a few times and then cover it tightly - trust me on this - and refrigerate it while you bake the salmon.

As previously mentioned, rather than grill the salmon, I opted to bake the fillets, which I had skinned by the helpful guy at Wegmans. I rubbed them with a juicy slice of peach and ground some salt over them and sprinkled on a bit of pepper before baking them for about 15 minutes. About halfway through the baking, I brushed them with some olive oil.

Serve the salmon atop an ample bed of salsa with a garnish of cilantro, if you so choose.

I served this meal with an amazingly refreshing sauvignon blanc from South Africa by Graham Beck. I got it on sale 50% off at Global Wine, my favorite wine shop (for reasons like that!). It was grassy, citrussy, and paired perfectly with the dish.

All in all, a successful meal!

Yours in the love of good food, wine, and the joy of customization,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sixty-fourth Post ~ Cheater's Duck à l'Orange

Duck à l'Orange has always been one of my favorite dishes. Pair it with a good oaky chardonnay, and it will make me swoon. I decided to try an easy take on this classic French recipe by using marmalade as my base. Here's what you'll need:

~ Duck breast (prepackaged ones by Maple Tree Farms from Wegmans are consistently delicious)
~ Marmalade
~ Heavy cream
~ Splash dry white wine (I used some leftover Brut)
~ One orange

For the sides, I made two dishes that are fail-safe and can be pretty much left on their own while I focused my energies on the duck:

~ Fingerling potatoes
~ Olive oil
~ Fresh (or dried) thyme
~ Coarse-ground sea salt

~ French-cut green beans (the bags from the freezer always come out crisp!)
~ Olive oil
~ One clove garlic
~ Coarse-ground sea salt

Beforehand, rinse and pierce the fingerling potatoes, drizzle them generously with EVOO, sprinkle some thyme on them and salt to taste. Pop them in a toaster oven on 350. They are best if they bake for about 45 minutes. I love fingerlings because A.) they're multicolored, which just makes me happy - especially the purple ones and B.) They are tiny, so 45 minutes of baking makes them taste just like those baked potatoes that have been in the oven forever absorbing all sorts of good flavors and getting all sweet.

Put the beans on the stove with some water and start boiling on low. I don't like beans cooked too long, so I just shut off the heat after they had boiled a bit. While I was prepping everything, I crushed a clove of garlic into some oil in a separate pan - but didn't turn it on until the very end when the duck was nearly done. At that point, I sautéed the garlic and tossed the beans around in it just before serving.

So back to the duck. Even though these particular duck breasts come pre-scored, I still scored them a little deeper to make sure I had a crispy skin. Place them skin side down in the pan and let them cook there for a bit, checking them every so often so they don't get too toasty. You may wish to drain out a little of the fat as they cook. Eventually, flip them over a few times to even out the cooking process and start making the sauce around them.

Dump in a few generous tablespoons of marmalade with a little bit of EVOO. Add a dash of salt and a splash or two of white wine. Cut off two slices of orange for a garnish, and squeeze the juice from the remaining fruit into the sauce. Stir it around a bit and allow it to begin simmering. After a bit, begin adding tiny amounts of cream, stirring it in immediately as you add it.

Now comes the easy part - just let the whole thing go for a bit! Turn the duck a few times and spoon some of the sauce over it as it's cooking, and insert a meat thermometer and turn off the heat when it reaches 160. Let the duck sit in the pan while you serve the potatoes with a dab of butter and the beans. Then serve the duck with a generous amount of sauce over the top!

I paired this meal with a chardonnay from Beachaven Vineyards Winery from Tennessee (a gift from JJ from a backpacking trip through the Smokeys). This chard is oaky enough to pair swoonably with the duck, with subtle vanilla and citrus notes that are a wonderful compliment to the orange sauce!

All in all, a successful first attempt at one of my favorite meals of all time!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.