Monday, March 23, 2009

Salmon with Dill Rice and Peas

There are times when I just don't feel like cooking, but I want dinner. I'm sure it happens to everyone. At those times I want something that takes a minimum of fuss but packs a flavor punch. Something that doesn't take too much time and leaves little mess to clean up. Something that won't interfere with a busy night spent on the couch catching up with my shows.

I don't remember exactly when I first tossed a can of salmon into brown rice, but it was super easy and tasted good just with the salmon and rice. Over the years I have refined it bit by bit - first I started adding dill to the rice, then peas. This time I added one of my more recent discoveries, gremolata, which pushed it completely over the top. More on that later.

It does take 45 minutes to cook the rice, but you don't have to be in the kitchen the whole time. I usually put the rice on, go relax for half an hour, and then prepare the salmon and the garnish.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 servings

1 14.75-oz. can fancy pink or fancy sockeye red salmon
1 cup brown rice
1-2/3 cups water
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 Tbsp fresh dill or 1 Tbsp dried
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
garlic powder to taste
salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley or gremolata, for garnish

Rinse rice and place in a 3-quart saucepan with the water. Bring to a roiling boil; let boil for a minute. Cover and turn heat as low as it will go. Cook for 45 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the rice is cooking. After the 45 minutes, lift the lid just long enough to throw the frozen peas into the pan with the rice; cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

About 15 minutes before the rice is done, remove the salmon from the can and place it in a large mixing bowl. You do not have to remove the bones from the salmon, but you can if you don't want them in there. I usually remove the large backbone, but the smaller bones are too much trouble and I can't tell they're there so I usually don't bother.

Once the rice and peas are finished, add them to the bowl with the salmon. Add the dill, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix well.

Serve garnished with chopped parsley or gremolata.

Created 3/15/09

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Monday, March 16, 2009

Whole Wheat Orzo with Italian Sausage

It's 10:30 in the morning and they're already heading into the bars. And St. Patrick's Day is three days away. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, seeing how many Irish are in Chicago, but I would be surprised if any of the lads and lassies a-wearin' o' the green I saw this past Saturday morning had a drop of green blood in their veins.

I have a weakness. I cannot keep from stockpiling starches. If I see that whole wheat pasta is on sale two for the price of one at the grocery store, I have to buy some. I get twitchy if I have less than one package of brown rice on hand. When World Foods whole wheat couscous were on sale, I bought several boxes through which I am still working.

Periodically I will end up with so much on hand that there is no small concern that something will go bad before I can use it. When that happens, I declare a firm moratorium on purchasing any more, no matter how good a bargain it is, and become determined to cook up as much of it as I can in as short a time as possible before I can buy anything more (which I know I will, eventually).

Luckily, I love pasta and rice, so it is no big sacrifice for me to use them up. For this whole wheat orzo and Italian Sausage dish, I was also able to find a home for the mozzarella and black olives that were a little too much for my Ultimate Beet Salad. A little red wine added a warmth and richness that made it especially suitable for the colder-than-usual week we just had.

This is another dish that travels well, and made an excellent workday lunch.

serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet or hot
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
1 28-oz. can tomatoes, whole or diced
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup whole wheat orze
4-6 oz. mozzarella bocconcini, halved
1/2 cup salt-or other-cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Grated Parmigiana-Reggiano or Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Heat oil in large skillet. Remove casing from sausage and put it in the skillet. Cook until well browned. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add wine and deglaze the pan; add tomatoes and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook until liquid has reduced by half.

When the sauce is about five minutes from being reduced to desired consistency, add salt to the boiling water, and then the orzo. Cook two minutes less than the time given in the package directions, drain, and add to the sausage-tomato mixture. Add mozzarella and mix well. Garnish with cheese and olives.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Ultimate Beet Salad (Note I Did Not Say Best)

Not everything I make works out. Nor should it. If you want to learn how to cook creatively you have to expect some disappointments. What you see here is what I am calling the Ultimate Beet Salad. And I do not mean ultimate in the sense of best, but more in the sense of last. There are a lot of good ideas here; too many good ideas as it turned out. Pretty much the only thing that is not in this salad is the kitchen sink. And I'm surprised I showed that little bit of restraint.

Here's what happened. I was on my way home from work last Monday, feeling a little worn down and lackluster. Work has been rough the past few months, as I'm sure it's been for a lot of people out there. I had not gone to the grocery store over the weekend and I had nothing either prepared or planned for dinner. I had all but decided to just order in, something I rarely do these days. And once I decided to have something delivered, all thoughts of health flew out the window. I was trying to decide whether to order pizza or a burger when my feet turned me into the parking lot of Treasure Island before I even knew what they were doing.

In the produce section, the minute I saw a bunch of fresh ruby red beets I thought, "Yes. Beet salad." The lettuce, celery and red onion were no-brainers. I had oranges and walnuts at home. And then things kind of took on a life of their own after that. I was a woman on a mission as I went back and forth through the aisles, and by the time I was done I had added fennel, potatoes, oil-cured olives, fresh mozzarella, and pancetta to my basket.

I decided to roast the beets and the potatoes so I prepped them and got them in the oven while I washed the lettuce and got everything else ready. I threw the pancetta into the skillet and got it going so it would be nice and crispy. I used the juice from the roasted beets and the supremed orange in the vinaigrette. I put everything in the bowl and dressed the salad. After much anticipation, I finally dug in my fork and took a bite.

And it was . . . ok. Not great. There were too many conflicting flavors and textures going on. It would have been much better without the potatoes, and the pancetta was wasted. The olives were too salty for the rest of the mix (which I guess is what I get for buying salt-cured olives). So I had to make sure I got a good mix on the fork.

Luckily, I kept most of the ingredients separate, so after the first night I was able to leave out the potatoes, mozzarella, pancetta, and olives. The potates and olives made a nice side dish with the orzo with Italian Sausage and Mozzarella I made for dinner later in the week, and
the pancetta topped my scrambled eggs for breakfast Sunday morning.

It wasn't a total loss. I will certainly continue to make beet salads, I will just put back the last three or four ingredients before I leave the store.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Braised Pork Chop with Mashed Potatoes and Broccolette

Sunday nights have become the equivalent of meat-and-potatoes night around here. Center-cut pork chops were on sale at the Apple Market, and I had bought some potatoes for some reason I can't even remember, so I decided to braise the pork chops and mash the potatoes. I had the Marco Real Tempranillo left over from my beef shanks, so I used that to braise the chops, using my usual method.

For the potatoes, I peeled and cubed some russets and boiled them. When they were done, I mashed them up with fat-free milk, adding just a touch of cream and butter.

And the vegetable? It looks like broccoli, but it's something called broccolette. It was on sale at Treasure Island so I bought a couple of bunches and brought it home. It's something new from Earthbound Farms, but I couldn't find any info on their website. Apparently it's a mix of broccoli and kale. You can see the kale a little in the leaves. Each floret has it's own stalk, which is kind of nice.

After washing it, I chopped the stems and left the florets whole. I heated a little olive over medium high heat in a large skillet, then added a diced shallot and a little bit of crushed red pepper. After it had caramelized I added the broccolette and sautee it for about five minutes. Then I added a little bit of chicken stock, lowered the heat, and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

At least I meant to let it simmer for 10 minutes. It was more like 15-20 because I forgot to set the timer and I got sidetracked. You can see in the picture how much it was overcooked. But what can you do? I sliced up some of the roasted red pepper I used for the Baked Chicken and Blood Orange with Fennel Couscous and added it right at the end. And while it could definitely have been a bit crunchier, it was absolutely delicious. Keep an eye out for it next time you're at the grocery store.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Baked Chicken and Blood Orange with Fennel Couscous

When I discover something new I usually use it frequently at first, so I can get familiar with it and have a better sense of what I can do with it. If I just use it once, chances are I will be just as reluctant to use it the next time it comes up as I was the first time.

And so it has gone with fennel. Fennel has intrigued me for many years, but every time I saw it at the grocery store and considered bringing it home, I just couldn't picture preparing it. What do you do with the stems, not to mention the fronds? How exactly do you cut the bulb, and how do you cook it after it is cut? It seems strange to be intimidated by a vegetable, but there you have it. We all have our food fears. Half the fun of being in the kitchen for me these days is overcoming those unexplainable little fears and cooking up a mess of something strange, wondrous and new.

Once I had bought my first fennel bulb, I took it home and cut off the stalks. I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do with them, but I did not want to just throw them away. I put them in a plastic bag and threw them into the produce drawer of the refrigerator. I had some chicken bones in the freezer and I thought I could use the fennel stalks the next time I made stock.

Then I sliced the bulb in half. You can see how it grows, with the layers coming out of the triangular core there at the bottom. What I did not know the first time I used it was that the core is really tough. You would think it would have occurred to me because you cut the core out of every other vegetable, but I wasn't really thinking. And that little bit of core at the bottom of every piece of fennel was tough and not tasty at all.

And as usually happens when you try something new, that same week on her Food Network show "Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics" Ina Garten prepared a fennel bulb. The first thing she did after cutting the bulb in half was to cut out the core. So I did the same the next time I used it and it made all the difference in the world.

The next time I bought a fennel bulb was for the pot roast, which was a big success. I now had two sets of stalks and I was pretty sure I didn't want to put that much in my chicken stock. But I did have those two beautiful beef shanks with which I planned to make Vegetable Beef Soup. I used the stalks from the first bulb first and sliced them up about the same size as the carrots. Their flavor is stronger than the bulb so I really just wanted to capture the flavor, so using them for the braising seemed perfect. And that was one delicious beef soup, if I do say so myself.

After reading misreall's comment about how good blood oranges are right now, they caught my eye the next time I was at the grocery store so I brought a couple home with me. I know orange and fennel is a common flavor combination, so when I was getting ready to bake another chicken, I thought it might be good to combine the blood orange and the fennel.

I cut the peel away from the orange and thinly sliced it instead of segmenting it. I pushed the slices between the skin and the pieces of the cut-up chicken before seasoning it and putting it into the oven. I layered the chicken over onions, carrots, garlic and the fennel that had been seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme and marjoram and then covered with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

The juice from the orange had permeated into the meat, but it did leave the remaining segments somewhat dry, and surprisingly bitter. I would either just use the juice next time, or remove the remaining pulp before serving.

I thought couscous would make a nice accompaniment to the chicken, so I cooked up a batch in some chicken stock I had in the freezer. I combined it with the roasted vegetables. Once I got it on the plate, though, it looked kind of bland and monochromatic, so I diced a roasted red pepper to throw over the whole thing. Not only did it look much better, the peppers added a lovely zing of flavor.

I followed my usual method for baking the chicken. You can find a good description here, just use onions, garlic, and fennel. Add carrots and celery if you want - I would have if there had been any in my vegetable bin and then maybe there would have been more color. I used salt, pepper, thyme and marjoram for seasoning. For the couscous, I basically followed the package directions and then combined them with the vegetables.
I used a jarred roasted red pepper. This is an easy dish and it works really well on a cold winter night.
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