Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chicken In Threes

Of all the types of meals and tangents my food preparations take me, French is the most foreign. A lifetime of avoidance based on a strong anti-French cuisine bias held by my dear old dad. Too rich, too saucy, too fussy and snobby. Just not his style of food and summarily dismissed from my culinary world.

That is, until I walked across the road to my dear friend Betty Gillette. She and her husband Russell had long been retired, their sons grown and out of the house when I started to visit their sweet white painted cottage surrounded by giant oak trees. Ponytail swinging, nearly bounding as I would skip up the well worn dirt path through the tall grass to their front door, uninvited, no phone call in advance and always welcomed. In her sunny kitchen ringed with bookcases filled with cookbooks she would open one up and we'd explore a different world in an afternoon's visit, usually with a cookie fresh out of the oven. Betty was a consummate foodie of her time. She even subscribed to Gourmet magazine! She would attend ladies luncheons (white gloves and all) with her dear friend Miss Parlier, a home economics teacher at our high school and you know the food was magnificently different. When her son married a French woman, her joy was to finally go to France and stay with them over several months. Her adventures recounted at the same sunny table, the sights and smells coming alive as her eyes sparkled in the retelling. Our deep friendship began when I was so small. More than just a neighbor, she watched me grow up, marry and enjoyed my children who also bounded up the path, across the field to her front door.

When Betty died, her sons sent over two big boxes of her recipes and cookbooks for me with a note saying she wanted me to have them. What a incredible blessing and amazing friendship. What a different kind of childhood in a different time. It would be hard to imagine a like friendship forged today between a five year old and the old lady that lives across the street. Is it still possible?

This post and side trip to slightly French cuisine is dedicated to Betty.

Fresh endive, grapes and apples

It started out simply enough, buying the chicken that is. On sale, jumbo pack boneless, skinless chicken breasts -- enough for three meals, less that two bucks a pound. Next, something French, something with endive. So elegant and often served as an appetizer or starter with some sort of cheese stuffing. Surely, it can be more than that? What would Betty do? Research her collection for inspiration, of course, yet I turned on my laptop and visited Dorie Greenspan.

A main and a side decided upon. Marinate the chicken breasts in Girard's Champagne Dressing (a go-to, love it quick marinade and... Champagne is French, no?)  Daylight savings and warming temperatures make week night grilling finally possible again. While my darling dear managed the coals, I stepped inside and sauteed endive, apples and green grapes in two pats of salted butter and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary. Simple, rustic and great with the grilled chicken. Just my style. The sweetness of the apples and grapes offset the tang of the endive in caramelized rosemary hinted buttery goodness. Dinner One.

Endive, apples and grapes -- From Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table
The California girl in me started taking over mid-week. Utilizing the left over grilled chicken made short work of a weeknight dinner, especially with rising daytime temperatures and crushing work week. Dinner Two was a quick walnut spinach salad with honey mango, tangy red onion, grilled chicken and Gorgonzola cheese crumbles dressed in a lemon honey walnut oil vinaigrette.

Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad with Walnuts, Mango and Gorgonzola Crumbles

Dinner Three took advantage of some good pre-thinking at the grocery store. Ready to roll out whole wheat pizza dough on sale for 1.88, fresh shiitake mushrooms that looked really, really wonderful (opportunity purchase not an impulse buy) and fresh basil. 

Chicken Pesto Pizza with shiitake mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes

1 ball whole wheat pizza dough
1 cup Sargento Reduced fat three cheese mix
1 1/2 cup slice shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 cup diced grilled chicken
1 1/2 cup walnut basil pesto
1/4 cup asiago cheese grated
1/8 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/4 cup torn spinach leaves

Preheat oven to 450º F. Roll out pizza dough to 10"-12" circle, sprinkle pizza pan with corn meal before placing dough. Spread pesto from center to 1/2" of edge. Sprinkle ingredients over dough, top with asiago cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes until cheese is bubble. I took the pizza off the pan half-way and cooked directly on the rack so the bottom would be crispy. Next time I will probably put the tomatoes under the cheese instead of on top so they don't brown so quickly.

We eat!
A little pre-planning, some inspiration, fresh ingredients and this week I didn't get tired of eating chicken.  Not once. Chicken in Threes, it's a good idea.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Seared Salmon in Dijon Beer Broth

I hate to say it, but sometimes salmon can be boring. Or to put it this way, my preparations have become routine, expected and rote despite my love of this fabulous fish.

With luck I found inspiration at Epicurious and a recipe for Seared Wild Salmon with New Potatoes and Dijon Broth which suited both what I had on hand and my mid-week mindset. The result is an elegant flavor combination and rustic appearance, bistro style. Pleasing in depth and complexity,  the broth surprises with layers of flavor. A bit of red cider vinegar and the Dijon mustard bring bright acidity and warmth that compliments the sweetness of the seared salmon. Tangy leeks and spinach  round out this healthy meal packed with super foods.

So next time, now that salmon is in season, or you are just hungry for it think about mixing it up with this preparation. I think you'll be glad you did.

And if you like the Frenchness of this dish with the leeks, tarragon and dijon you will also want to check out the entries of April in Paris, this month's Monthly Mingle hosted by Life's a Feast author and Huffington Post contributor Jamie Schler, especially if her invitation tempts you as much as it did me.

"A Monthly Mingle strolling through the mythical streets of Paris, breathing in the luxurious scents floating out of pastry shops and bistros, the heavenly sweet mingling with the savory, will bring France to your table, masterly and memorable, creating emotions that only deepen the sensations." 
-- Jamie Schler

Seared Salmon in Dijon Beer Broth

Seared Salmon in Dijon Beer Broth
Serves 4
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes

4 6 oz ¾” thick, Salmon fillets with skin removed
3-4 medium sized red potatoes, skin on quartered and cut in ¾” cubes
2 tbl olive oil (divided)
1 tbl vegetable oil
1 12 oz beer (I used Anchor Steam Beer)
½ cup leek, cut in half vertically and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 ½ cup low salt chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
2 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea salt

Pre-cook red potatoes until just fork tender in saucepan covered in water and lightly salted (about 10 minutes) you will want them still firm and not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400º
Season salmon fillets both sides with ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt.

  1. In a medium saucepan (~3 quart) add ½ tablespoon olive oil and cook leeks over medium heat until slightly soft.
  2. Add beer and vinegar, bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to about 1 cup (7-10 minutes)
  3. Add mustard, chicken stock, and tarragon leaves, bring back up to boil and remove from heat.
  4. While broth is cooking, heat large skillet over high heat, add olive and vegetable oils. Once the pan is hot add salmon fillets cooking the rounded side first until well browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and cook flat side another 2 minutes. Remove from pan and place in 9” x 13” baking dish, flat side down.
  5. Arrange cooked potatoes around salmon pieces and gently pour prepared broth around the potatoes. (Do not pour directly on salmon, it will make it soggy). Bake in oven about 10 minutes (time will vary a bit depending on how thick your fillets are, if they are very thick 1” plus they may need to cook up to 20 minutes, monitor carefully so you do not overcook.)
  6. While salmon is baking, heat your skillet over medium high, add scant tablespoon of olive oil and wilt your fresh chopped spinach, 2-3 minutes.
  7. Serve in four flat bowls dividing ingredients evenly, first place spinach, leeks and potatoes in the bowl, place seared salmon on top and pouring in broth to cover the bottom. Garnish with fresh tarragon leaves.

Cook’s Tips
Inspiration:  Epicurious Seared Wild Salmon with New Potatoes and Dijon Broth 

Monthly Mingle is the creation of Meeta K. Wolff of What's For Lunch, Honey?

April in Paris is the theme for April's guest host Jamie Schler at Life's a Feast.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with a Wasabi Kick

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Wasabi Caviar
You know the feeling after boiling up a dozen or more eggs. The excitement of an artist with a fresh canvas coloring your beauties the hues of the rainbow. Fantasmically colorful in the basket of straw grass and then the realization that you will be stuck eating hard boiled eggs in your lunch for the next week.

Oh yeah, that. The kids love the dipping and dying, hiding and hunting, but the eating? Are you kidding? What to do, then what to do.

I say reward yourself with a grown up treat. When you are at the grocery store getting those holiday supplies and egg dye, pick up a small 4 ounce package of smoked salmon and whip up these yummy deviled eggs.  If you are feeling extra extravagant order some of my favorite vegetarian wasabi caviar to dab on the top. Indulge yourself, and maybe when asked to bring a little appetizer for cocktails these will come to mind.

Happy Spring! Happy Easter!

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
Makes 12 appetizers
6 hard boiled eggs, cut in half horizontally
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/8 cup smoked salmon, finely chopped
Pinch of ground black pepper
Cavi-art Wasabi Caviar

In the bowl of a mini-food processor, blend yolks, mayonnnaise, sour cream and salmon until smooth and dreamy. Add black pepper and taste for salt (salmon will usually be plenty salty,  so you may not need any more.) Pipe into egg white halves, garnish with Wasabi Caviar. (Note: I colored my eggs and what fun that it tinted the whites just a bit. Stuff happens.)  Try just a dab of prepared wasabi if the caviar is too hard to find.

Smoked Salmon and Wasabi -- Yum!

Cavi-Art Wasabi Caviar is available on line at
Gourmelli - Cavi-art
Cavi-Art from Denmark