Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Post Mardi Gras Rx

Did you party yesterday like it was Fat Tuesday? You should have because it was. To those not familiar with this day, it's another name for Mardi Gras. The tradition is to eat rich and fatty foods in abundance before Lent begins the following day on Ash Wednesday. While "way back when," the start of Lent brought fasting, now it usually means giving up something for 40 days. I've noticed some of my friends are giving up Faceback, while others are giving up some type of pleasure, like their daily Starbucks or dessert. I actually once had a friend (cough, Terry) who gave up dark-colored alcohol, which I thought was a hilarious loop hole. His rational was that he didn't care much for the "white versions," so if he drank during Lent it would really be punishing. Well, the punishment did indeed come one night when someone encouraged him to drink sake and he imbibed to excess. Nothing like puking at a dinner table with customers. 

Pan-Seared Salmon over Warm Winter Slaw

Anyway, if you're trying to clean up your act for Lent, are still trying to stick to your New Year's resolution of eating healthier, or are just looking for a tasty new recipe, I think this will do the job. It's pan-seared salmon served over a warm winter slaw. It's incredibly easy to pull together, looks fancy, tastes rich and happens to be less than 300 calories per serving (in case you're counting).

Fresh rosemary and red cabbage
Red onions sliced and then chopped
Balsamic vinegar and maple syrup provide the perfect punch of acid and sweetness

It starts with a caramelized mess of red onions and red cabbage enlivened with some rosemary, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. I probably cooked my slaw longer than necessary but I love that sweet, roasted flavor. You really can't overcook it, but you may like it a bit brighter in color and a little firmer to the bite. 

A gorgeous piece of salmon
Pan-seared perfection
The salmon is pan roasted to get that beautiful crusted skin but you could also bake the fish the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. It's fail-proof and my "go to" method of cooking salmon. But I do appreciate a perfectly seared piece of fish.

Walnut and feta topped slaw

Although I love feta, it seemed like a weird accompaniment to salmon. But I can see how it adds a needed note of salt to the dish and is a wonderful companion to the earthiness of the fish and the toasted walnuts. The final dish comes together in a delicious concert and serves as the perfect post Mardi Gras remedy. 

Pan-Seared Salmon with Warm Winter Slaw
from Fitness Magazine

2 12 tsp olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
3 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lb center-cut salmon filet, pin bones removed and cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted
2 oz feta, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

1. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and rosemary; saute 5 minutes or until onion is browned. Add cabbage and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cover. 
2. Meanwhile, heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. Rub top of salmon with remaining oil and place in skillet, skin side down. Cook 6 minutes; flip and cook 2 minutes more or until just opaque. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Pull off skin. Serve slaw topped with walnuts, feta and salmon. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Souper Bowl

So how about that Super Bowl?! I don't know if you were rooting for the Ravens, the 9ers, Beyonce, or even the electricity, but it sure was exciting! I was lucky enough to attend two different parties—each of which was packed with incredible and incredibly sinful food. I put away food like an NFL player and practically put myself into a food coma with some excessive servings of homemade mac and cheese. When Monday rolled around, I was ready for something healthy. Plus my parents were visiting, and my dad is a big fan of soup.

Growing up, we didn't eat a lot of soup, but when we did it was usually Brunswick stew and my dad loved it. As a picky eater who wasn't a huge fan of vegetables—especially all mixed together, Brunswick stew wasn't my favorite probably because it could easily be called "kitchen sink" stew. Recipes vary greatly but it's usually a tomato-based soup with some combination of vegetables, like potatoes, corn, beans, and okra, and some meat, like rabbit, squirrel (seriously), chicken or pork. As an adult who now loves soup and most vegetables (even when mixed together), this recipe felt like a somewhat healthier version of this Southern staple.

The good news: My dad also loved it, even though he said it had a lot of "strange" things in it. He was referring to the lentils and the chopped Swiss chard, which are two items you'd probably not find in any Southerner's Brunswick stew recipe. Lima beans and collard greens . . . yes. Honestly, I probably never ate lentils or Swiss chard until 3 years ago, and now I can't get enough of them. 

Anyway, I invited a few friends over to soup with us, and I kind of got busy hostessing and forgot to actually drizzle the garlic oil over the soup, along with the grated pecorino cheese. This is supposed to raise the bar unforgettably. Well, I thought it was freaking awesome as is, so I'm motivated to make it again—and soon—this time with the requisite finishing touches. I also forgot to take any photos of the soup once it was plated. Bad food blogger! Anyway, you'll just have to take my word for it that it was both beautiful and delicious.

There are several other nice thing about this recipe:
1) It doesn't take hours to make.
2) It's healthy even though it does have a little sausage in it. (I'm Southern so a little fat hardly counts.)
3) It calls for water instead of stock or broth so it's cheaper and easier.
4) It makes your house smell wonderful.

So whether you're cooking for Southerners or Californians—or anyone in between, I am confident this soup will be a hit.

And now my sports focus turns to NCAA basketball. . . .

Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard and Garlic
Adapted from Secrets of the Best Chefs

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 large links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced (I actually used leeks b/c I had some I needed to use)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for the oil)
Kosher salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Dash of Tabasco
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
8 cups of water
Freshly ground pepper
4-6 cups shredded or ribboned Swiss chard leaves (or kale)
Grated pecorino cheese to garnish

1. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. When hot, add sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. 
2. Add the onion, celery, carrots, 2 cloves of garlic, pinch of salt, and red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. 
3. Add the lentils, bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, water, Tabasco, and more salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. You may want to add some more water to the pot if the soup gets too thick. 
4. When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook until the leaves are tender, 5 - 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves. 
5. To finish, divide the soup among bowls, then add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium heat until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over the soup bowls, and top with grated pecorino. 
Serves 6-8