On the Menu: Potato Sour Cream Soup + Salmon with Wilted Watercress

Last night, I survived my first hospital night-shift.  It was a first for me: I’ve never been one to stay up all night and I’ve never worked for 12 hours straight.  I’m gearing up for another shift tonight and one the night after.  Basically, I’m worthless for anything but sitting on my couch.  Which is why I decided to make a decadent, delicious dinner before my week got started.

The lovely thing about this meal was that I was able to prepare the salmon and watercress as the soup bubbled on the stove.  Just preheat your oven to 450F, season your salmon with salt and pepper (and olive oil, if you like), and bake for 12-15 minutes.  For the watercress, heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, add watercress with a pinch of salt, and lightly sautee for under 5 minutes.  A bit of lemon juice would also be lovely.

The soup takes only about 30 minutes to prepare, so you’ll have dinner on the table in no time.

Sour Cream Potato Soup
makes 6 servings
adapted from A Southerly Course

Ingredients
– 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
– 2 large shallots, roughly chopped
– 3 cups Yukon Gold or red potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
– 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
– 1 cup sour cream
– salt and pepper to taste
– chives for garnish (optional)

Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add shallots and sautee, stirring regularly until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Blend soup with an immersion blender or regular blender until creamy.  Add some of the warm soup to the sour cream, whisk until incorporated and then add that mixture back to the soup.  Serve hot.

Salmon Bisque (Dairy-Free)

Believe it or not, this last week has given us several days of what I would call “soup weather”.  Overcast skies, a chill in the air, drizzling rain.  We even had spectacular thunder and lightening storms the last two nights in a row.  I liked them.  The dog did not.  So while other bloggers are posting their favorite rhubarb or spring salad recipes (which really do look good), I’m curled up on my couch with a blanket and a bowl of soup.

Despite the visions of butter and heavy cream usually conjured up by the mention of “bisque”, this recipe has neither.  And I can tell you that it doesn’t need either one.  The salmon adds a richness all its own and a couple small potatoes makes for the perfect amount of body.  The pictures here show it topped with a dollop of greek yogurt, but it’s just as lovely without.  Perhaps you could even add a swirl of olive oil for some extra healthy fats.

One other nice thing about this soup: It helped me finally figure out what to do with a certain specialty salt that I’ve had in my kitchen for almost a year!  You see, last summer when my parents visited, my mom bought a large container of a nice coarse gray salt.  The flakes (chunks is actually probably a better word) had a nice taste and look to them but I just didn’t know how to handle them.  They were too large to use for most cooking applications and too fancy-seeming to just dissolve into soup or broth.  I put my container on the top shelf of my pantry and forgot about it.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, our neighbors gave us a very belated Christmas present of 3 gorgeous salt vials.  One of them contained the same coarse gray salt from Guerande, France (the same place fleur de sel comes from).  Now, it seemed, I was really going to need to find an appropriate use for this unusual salt.

Well, I think I finally did it.  When a few flakes are added to a warm bowl of thick soup like this one and then mixed in, it creates pleasant little pockets of saltiness with some crunch where the salt didn’t dissolve completely.  I think this would also work nicely with a lentil or split-pea soup.

Question: Have any of you received gifts for the kitchen that you weren’t quite sure how to use?  What did you end up doing with them?

Salmon Bisque
makes 4 servings
adapted (slightly) from Tartelette

Ingredients
– 1 Tbsp olive oil
– 2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced
– 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 2 carrots, sliced
– 2 small red potatoes, sliced
– 2 Tbsp extra dry vermouth
– 3 cups vegetable broth
– 1 lb skinless salmon, cubed (I found some for a good price in the frozen section of Trader Joe’s)
– salt and pepper, to taste
– greek yogurt, olive oil, and/or salt for serving

Heat olive oil over medium in a large pot.  Add vegetables and sautee, stirring so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add vermouth, vegetable broth, and salmon and season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender (let the soup cool a bit if your blender is not designed for hot liquids).  Garnish as desired and serve.  This soup keeps for a few days in the refrigerator.

*I added this post to this week’s Sugar Free Sunday, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Monday Mania, Hearth and Soul Hop, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, and Mix it Up Monday.

Salmon en Papillote + Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus

I’m on Day 5 of my 21-day resolution not to eat added sugar or white flour and it’s going pretty well.  Honestly, it’s been better in some ways and worse in some ways that I had imagined.

The good stuff: I don’t have to agonize over the “should I or shouldn’t I?” of certain eating choices.  If someone brings bagels or cookies to school, I can simply tell myself that I’m not going to be able to have any this time and remind myself that bagels and cookies will still exist in 3 weeks.  It simplifies things and I haven’t felt too deprived yet.  Then again, it’s only day 5 and I have raided the kitchen pantry for handfuls dried cherries and walnuts the last several nights in a row.

The not so good stuff: It can feel socially isolating to completely avoid any food category.  My resolution is definitely not as restrictive as it could be, but it can still be difficult to navigate certain social situations.  For example, I know my boyfriend is going to be a little put out when we go to our favorite wood-fire pizza restaurant later tonight and I just order some olives and a salad.  He’ll get over it, but this shows how sharing food is an important part of many intimate relationships.  Also, it’s hard to learn how to stay fueled and full when the majority of “empty” calories are taken away!

And I’ve been unusually tired all week.  I don’t know why.

Luckily, there are a great many meals that one can enjoy when avoiding sugar and processed flour.  In keeping with my recent french obsession, I made Salmon en Papillote for dinner a few nights ago.  I cannot even begin to describe the delicious smells coming out of my oven as it cooked.  It was simple to make but came out looking quite impressive. I also made Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus to round out the meal.

Again with the grainy iPod photos. I promise I’m getting my real camera back soon.

Layers of goodness.

Lovely asparagus.

A perfect spring meal.

As always, enjoy!

Salmon en Papillote
serves 2

Ingredients
– 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
– 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
– about 3/4 lb fillet of wild-caught salmon, cut into 2 pieces
– 8 large basil leaves
– salt
– pepper
– 1 lemon
– 1-2 green onions, white parts only, finely sliced
–  2 sprigs thyme

Heat oven to 425F.  Cut two 12″x12″ pieces of foil and set aside.

Start by cooking the tomatoes.  Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat and add washed tomatoes.  Cook just until their skins are beginning to wrinkle, 7-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare the salmon packets.  In the middle of each piece of foil, place 3 basil leaves side by side.  Drizzle them with a little olive oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper.  Place the salmon on top of the basil leaves, skin side down (if they have skin).  Spoon the cooked tomatoes onto the foil next to the salmon.  Drizzle the salmon with a little more olive oil and sprinkle some more salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the packets with a little lemon juice and lemon zest (about 1/4 tsp zest per packet).  Scatter green onion slices over the salmon and tomatoes and place a basil leaf and thyme sprig on each piece of salmon.

Now, close up the packets.  You’ll want to seal them tightly enough that steam does not escape during cooking but you’ll also want to “tent” them so there is a bit of space above the salmon.

Place packets on a baking pan and bake for 7-10 minutes.  I left them for 10 minutes and felt they were almost overdone.  I will try 8 minutes next time.

When they are done, remove the salmon from the tin foil and plate along with the tomatoes.
Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus
serves 2

Ingredients
– 1 lb asparagus, woody stems removed and peeled, if desired
– 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– a few pinches coarse salt
– 3 Tbsp almond flour (finely ground almonds)
– 3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 425F.  In a small bowl, combine almond flour and parmesan cheese.

Place asparagus in a shallow baking dish and toss with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and top with cheese mixture.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until asparagus is tender and topping is just beginning to brown.  Serve immediately.

Baked Salmon Steaks with Ginger Sesame Vegetables

It’s obvious that I like to cook.  I love the creativity and discovery involved and of course I love eating the results.  I also love the idea of cooking for other people, of providing them with a cozy meal and good company.  But the reality of cooking for other people makes me duck and cover.  I get nervous that something won’t turn out.  I’ll burn it at the last minute or I’ll accidentally add too much salt, ruining the whole thing.  Or (possibly worse) they’ll just think my food is kind of mediocre.  This is why you see so many “serves 1″ recipes on this site.  I just can’t take the pressure.

And so I got a case of the heart palpitations last night when Jeremy mentioned he was having a client over to do some work at exactly the same time that I was planning on making dinner.  “But I’ve never cooked salmon steaks before!  What if she hates bok choy?  And how am I going to take my food photos without her thinking I’m a total weirdo?!?!”

Well, I solved that last problem by hiding around the corner in the kitchen and snapping some poorly-lit shots before serving the food.  As for the rest?  It turned out just fine.  In fact, I don’t think I could have chosen a less fussy, more rewarding dinner for company.  The brilliance is that everything goes in the oven at the same time and comes out at the same time.  Very little risk of forgetting something and burning it.  And salmon always bumps up the “wow” factor.

I chose to use salmon steaks because there was a killer deal on them at my local market.  One good-sized steak can easily serve 2 people.  Just divide it up after it cooks.  You could easily use another cut instead but your cooking time may be different.

Salmon Steaks with Ginger Sesame Vegetables
serves 4

Ingredients
– 2 salmon steaks (Wild-Alaskan preferred)
– salt and pepper, to taste
– 2 heads baby bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise and carefully washed
– 2 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
– 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
– 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
– 1 tsp roasted sesame oil
– 1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
– a few Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 425F.  Place salmon steaks in a small glass pan and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.  Set aside.  If you plan on serving this meal with rice, you can get that started now, too.

2. Place bok choy halves in a large glass pan and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Top with salt.

3. In a large bowl, toss cabbage, mushrooms, remaining olive oil, sesame oil, and ginger together with salt.  Add to the pan with the bok coy.

4. Put salmon and vegetable pans into the oven together.  Bake for 12-16 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon.  Stir vegetables about halfway through.

5. Before serving, divide the salmon steaks in half, lengthwise.  Simply slide your knife along the line where the bones are.  Remove the larger center bone and all the smaller bones where you cut.  Don’t worry, they’re not too hard to find.  You can also remove the skin before serving if you’d like.  Serve with rice and top everything with toasted sesame seeds.

* I added this post to this week’s Melt In Your Mouth Monday, Weekend Gourmet, Real Food 101, Fat Tuesday, and Gluten Free WednesdayMonday Mania.

Quinoa-Salmon Cakes

Let me tell you how relieved I am to finally be writing this post.  I usually have a list of recipes I want to try and then share with you.  And this week I have been busy trying…and trying…and trying.  Yesterday, there were coconut pancakes that completely flopped.  I made a batch of wonderful potato soup, ate half of it, and then froze the other half to photograph and write my post with.  When I defrosted it, it had the strangest texture I’ve ever seen in a soup. (Can somebody enlighten me about this?  Should potato soup just never be frozen for later?)  I made not one, but two batches of dehydrated kale chips and ate them so promptly that the camera never had a chance.  So you can imagine my relief last night when I made tasty AND photogenic salmon cakes for dinner.

Served with oven fries and sautéed chard.

I’m going to let you in a secret about saving money on the salmon here.  When I was at the fish counter in the grocery store looking over my options, I noticed that the cheapest way to get salmon was in the form of salmon burgers.  I asked about the ingredients (I didn’t want to pay for any “fillers”) and it turns out they were just wild-caught salmon with some herbs and spices.  It was from the exact same fish being sold as steaks and fillets.  I imagine they just use the less perfectly shaped bits to make the burgers.  So if you don’t mind having a little less control over the seasonings included in your patties, you can always look for this option.  Or you could buy canned salmon.

To learn more about safe and environmentally-friendly fish choices, have a look at this quick guide from the Environmental Defense Fund.  It rates fish based on sustainability and levels of mercury or PCBs.

Quinoa-Salmon Patties
makes 6 patties
adapted from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen 

Ingredients
– 2 Tbs fresh chives
– 1 large handful cilantro
– zest from 1 lemon
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/2 tsp cayenne
– 1 lb wild salmon (skinned and de-boned if necessary)
– 1 cup cooked quinoa
– 1-2 Tbs olive oil

1.  In a food processor with an “S” blade, pulse herbs and spices several times until minced.

2. Add salmon and quinoa and pulse together until evenly mixed.  Form into patties and set aside.

3. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add salmon patties (I could only fit 3 at a time) and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and cooked through.

* This post is part of the Weekend Gourmet Blog Carnival, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Real Food 101, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Hearth and Soul Hop, Gluten-Free Wednesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesday, and Monday Mania.

Salmon and Rye Sandwich with Herbed Yogurt

About a week ago, I mentioned my rediscovery of the open-faced sandwich.  I remember my dad often enjoying one for a weekend lunch, although I was never very interested in joining him since he usually topped his with a generous portion of braunschweiger (liverwurst).  I thought it was really gross.

Recently, though, I’ve come back around to this way of sandwich-making.  Maybe it’s in honor of my Danish heritage or maybe it’s just because this a really good idea.  As far as I’m concerned, sandwich bread is simply a vehicle for the toppings.  Here is a super-simple sandwich that I’ve been enjoying recently.  It’s quick to make and filled with satisfying flavors.  The only real time-consuming part of this is the herbed yogurt.  I wanted it to have the same thick consistency as cream cheese so I drained it in cheesecloth overnight.  By morning, I had a super-thick yogurt with the excess liquid (whey) separated out.  You could certainly use cream cheese or goat cheese instead.

Salmon and Rye Sandwich with Herbed Yogurt
serves 1

Ingredients
– 1 slice rye bread
– 2 Tbs Herbed Yogurt (recipe below)
– a slice (or two) of lox

1. Lightly toast the rye bread, not until crispy but until just warmed and softened.

2. Smear generously with herbed yogurt and top with lox.

Herbed Yogurt
makes about 3/4 cup

Ingredients
– 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt (or 3/4 cup cream cheese or goat cheese)
–  2 Tbs chives, minced
– 3 Tbs parsley, minced
– 3 Tbs dill, minced

1.  If you are thickening your yogurt, put it in a layer of cheesecloth and leave to drain overnight.  See more detailed instructions here.

2.  Mix yogurt and herbs until well-incorporated.