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Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

Fish Tacos

Taquerías in the middle of Ireland?  Nada.  The first time my Irishman had a taste of fish tacos was during a trip we took together to Mexico in 2002.  Ever since then, fish tacos are never too far from his mind.  He has an uncanny ability to sniff out the nearest taquería from miles away.  Literally.  It’s pretty scary.  Though, I’m not entirely convinced it really has anything to do with the tacos themselves.  I suspect it’s more the supporting cast members that drive his constant craving.  The chips.  The salsa.  The guacamole.  The sour cream.  And of course, The Cerveza.

fish-tacos

I don’t mind really.  Actually, I don’t mind at all.  There are just some nights when the primary focus is on minimum cooking and more importantly, minimum washing up.  Fish tacos do the trick every time.  Like the Caprese, this is another dish that only requires mainly assembly and chopping skills.  YES!  Just grab a piece of your favorite fish (prawns work great too), grill it up and pile on your favorite taco toppings.  Organic black beans, fresh avocado, red onions, vine tomatoes, cilantro and a squeeze of lime are always in the mix for us.  In less than 15 minutes, it’s 2002, and we’re back in Mey-hee-ko.

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Elephants have earned the reputation of being the smartest kid in class. This intelligence is linked mostly with their ability to never forget (though I’m convinced part of the reason is just because, well, they’re cute…damn cute)!

Salmon, on the other hand, are not quite as cute. However, the memory of salmon is nothing short of remarkable. Salmon are born in fresh water streams, swim to the ocean where they stay for 2-5 years, and then swim back to the exact same stream in which they were born to lay their own eggs.

Is that unbelievable or what? That’s like me trying to get back to the village in Vietnam where I was born, on foot and without a map!

So, yes, salmon are smart little suckers. More importantly, they are tast-teeee! We all know the health benefits of this super-food, but what is most appealing is how quickly and in how many ways it can be prepared – raw, smoked, grilled, baked, broiled, steamed, seared – all with lip smacking results. Admittedly, I’m pretty spoiled living in the Pacific Northwest, being so close to the source. This wild Pacific salmon nearly lept into my arms at the market it was so fresh, so I had no choice but to take it home.

pan-seared-salmon

Pan Seared Wild Salmon with Mustard-Caper Butter and Wilted Spinach
Tweaked from Martha Stewart Living, Dec 2006, serves 2

Watch the oven carefully and set a timer. It may get a little smoky with the high heat, plus you do not want to overcook the salmon. It happens faster than you think. I usually like to take it out a minute before recipes indicate since I like it more rare than not.

Also, after learning this technique from Barefoot Contessa, it’s the only way to pan sear. Finishing off the salmon in the oven makes for a restaurant quality cooked piece of fish. Just remember – do not move the fillets – you will be very tempted, but don’t do it. Leaving them alone allows for the nice crust to form in order for you to flip them over. If you move them – trust me, you’ll have a fishy, sticky, mess on your hands.

Music Pairing: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Radiohead, In Rainbows

Ingredients
salmon:

  • 2 center-cut wild salmon fillets (7 to 8 ounces each), skin removed
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil

spinach:

  • 8 ounces baby or regular spinach
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

mustard-caper butter:

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp drained capers, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tsp coarsely chopped fresh dill or parsley
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon, plus thin slices for garnish
  • Freshly ground pepper

Method
for salmon:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rub both sides of salmon fillets with olive oil and season tops very liberally with salt and pepper. Heat a dry oven-proof saute pan over high heat for 2-3 minutes. When the pan is very hot, lower heat to medium and place the salmon fillets seasoning-sides down in the pan and cook without moving them for 2 minutes, until very browned. Turn the fillets and place the pan in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until the salmon is cooked rare.

for spinach:

While salmon is in the oven, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red onions, cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high. Add half the spinach, and cook, stirring until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add remaining spinach, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes more. Stir in salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

for mustard-caper butter:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serving

Place spinach in center of plate and top with salmon fillet. Spread some mustard-caper butter on salmon and garnish with lemon slices. Serve immediately.

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The word ‘braised’ is a beautiful thing. Whenever it chooses to make an appearance on a menu, a force beyond my control pulls me to it like an unsuspecting baby moth to a big’ole orange flame. The magic of turning a simple, inexpensive, tough cut of meat into a deep, fiercely flavored, melt-in-your-mouth tour de force … all happening under the roof of a single pot – is the stuff culinary dreams are made of.

As much as I love to see it on a menu, braising at home soothes the soul in a way no restaurant kitchen can. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of hearing the initial SIZZZZle of searing meat, seeing the carmalization of the meat, smelling the goodness of the wine, stock, and aromatics permeating through the house, or maybe it’s because you’re just so damn hungry after waiting 3 hours that you’d eat your own shank.

For me, I know it’s those last moments of anticipation – when I scurry over to the oven, put on my big red oven mitts, pull out my Le Creuset (the one piece of kitchen equipment I would run back into a burning house to retrieve) and open the lid to discover what’s transpired inside. Voila! A surprise every time, it’s even better than Christmas morning. The weather turned on us once again, so last night’s cold, wet and howling night made for a perfect excuse to hunker down with a big glass of wine and a big slab of meat.

braised-lamb-shank

Braised Lamb Shank with Creamy Yellow Polenta & Mint Gremolata
Tweaked from Bon Appétit and Martha Stewart Living, yields 4 heaping servings

Though gremolata is traditionally made with parsely, the mint is what makes this braised lamb dish shine. Oh, and don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe. Everything comes together in a snap and the bulk of the time is spent just in the waiting.

Music Pairing: Night Train, Oscar Peterson, Night Train

Ingredients
lamb:

  • 4 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 cups low salt chicken broth
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves

polenta:

  • 5 cups salted water
  • 1 cup organic yellow polenta (found in my favorite bulk food section)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese
  • grated Pecorino (optional)

gremolata: (i like my gremolata very minty, garlicky and lemony – so adjust to your own tastes)

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped mint
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely grated lemon peel

Method
for lamb:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Season all sides of lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. In a large baking dish, dredge the shanks in flour and tap to remove any excess. Heat oil in a Dutch oven just large enough to hold the shanks in one layer over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and sear until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the shanks to a platter. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan, stirring to loosen any brown bits on the bottom and sides of the pan. Cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

Return the shanks to the pot and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, stock, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven. Bake until the shanks are tender, 2 1/2-3 hours.

for polenta:

In a large, heavy saucepan, bring 5 cups of salted water to a rolling boil. Whisking constantly, pour the cornmeal into the water in a steady stream until all is combined. Continue to whisk until you are sure there are no lumps of unincorporated cornmeal. Reduce heat to low, add the butter and cream. Cover, and cook 20 minutes, uncovering frequently to stir. Stir the mixture until thick and creamy, with no taste of rawness, an additional 20 minutes or so. If mixture becomes too thick, add water or milk as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add mascarpone and serve with grated Pecorino.

for gremolata:

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to blend.

Serving

Remove the pot from the heat and discard bay leaves. Place a ladle of the polenta in the middle of 4 inch wide, shallow bowls, and top each with a braised lamb shank. Drizzle with some of the sauce and top with a sprinkling of gremolata. Pass the remaining sauce and gremolata at the table. Serve immediately.

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