Tuna Nicoise Sandwiches

What do you get when you put classic nicoise salad ingredients between 2 slices of bread?  You get the perfect picnic takealong.

I was inspired by this sandwich over at Tartelette.  It was just the thing to bring for an afternoon cooling off by the river last weekend.  It was Jeremy’s birthday and we needed a way to beat the heat and get out of our ordinary routine.  We ended up with happy tastebuds and a very happy dog.

Chasing sticks never gets old for him.

I used some lovely homemade focaccia bread and quick-pickled onions in this recipe.  Use whatever bread you prefer, but I really recommend you give the onions a try.  They only take about 5 minutes to put together and they add a zesty tang and crunch.

I hope everyone is staying cool out there.  I’ve stationed myself in front of the fan for the afternoon.

Tuna Nicoise Sandwiches
makes 2
adapted from Tartelette

Ingredients
– 2 hard-boiled farm eggs, peeled and chopped
– 1 can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
– 6 olives, halved (I’m obsessed with castelvetrano olives)
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– several large basil leaves, torn into pieces
– 1 Tbsp olive oil
– 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1 tomato, sliced
– several slices quick-pickled onions
 bread of choice

In a large bowl, mix eggs, tuna, olives, garlic, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Spread thickly between slices of bread, topped with tomato and onions.

I added this post to this week’s Melt in Your Mouth Monday.

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.

Shrimp, Avocado, and Lime Salad

Monday was perhaps the hottest day we’ve had so far this year.  While I spend the majority of the winter yearning for summer to come again, I forget what it feels like to be wilting on the couch in one’s little box of the apartment (no A/C, of course), wondering just how anyone could be expected to get any work done in this heat.  That was Monday, a preview of what’s to come.

The last thing I wanted to do was fire up the stove or turn on the oven.  Luckily, I had some pre-cooked Oregon Bay Shrimp I had bought on sale from the grocery store.  According to Seafood Watch, wild-caught Oregon shrimp are the best choice for sustainability.  And since this salad required absolutely no additional heat in my apartment, I’d say it was the perfect meal for the day.  I served it on cucumber slices but it would also be lovely on tortilla chips or a green salad.

I’m so sorry for the grainy photo! I left my camera in Fort Worth and am waiting for my mom to mail it to me. Thanks, Mom!

Shrimp, Avocado, and Lime Salad
makes about 3 cups

Ingredients
– 3/4 lb pre-cooked Oregon Bay Shrimp, picked through for stray shells
– 2 small avocados, diced
– 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
– juice of 2 limes
– scant teaspoon salt (add more to taste, if needed)
–  1 tsp garlic powder
– 1/2 tsp cumin

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and combine well.  Serve immediately or chilled with cucumber slices or other crudités.

Paleo Tuna Cakes

Have you heard of the paleo diet?  It seems to be everywhere I look these days and, I have to say, it seems to be founded on some pretty good concepts.  The driving idea behind it is  that we should eat foods that our ancestors ate.  In other words, no twinkies.  It is a little meat-heavy for my tastes (although proponents of the diet advocate for grass-feed, ethically raised meat) and it also involves cutting out grains.  What I do like about it is the emphasis on natural, whole foods and vegetables.  I’ve been incorporating some paleo principles into my diet for a little while now, but I’m definitely not an avid follower.  Any diet that says I can’t eat nachos at 1am now and then is just not sustainable for me.  But I believe you don’t have to do something perfectly 100% of the time to see real benefits from your efforts.

So that’s how these paleo tuna cakes ended up in my kitchen.

What separates these from most other tuna cakes is the fact that these don’t have bread crumbs or much else in the way of “fillers”.  This gives them a satisfying, meaty texture but it does mean that they don’t crisp up like some others you may have tried.  Personally, I liked them this way…healthy and satisfying.  Serve them with veggies for a true paleo experience.

For the tuna, I splurged on a brand called “Wild Planet” that’s committed to sustainable seafood products.  Not to mention it tastes better and is recommended by the expert folks at Cook’s Illustrated.

Paleo Tuna Cakes
makes 4 large cakes
adapted from Raf’s Kitchen

Ingredients
– 2 5-oz cans good quality tuna
– 2 eggs
– 2 Tbsp almond flour
– 2 Tbsp coconut flour
– 1 Tbsp lemon juice
– 1 tsp mustard
– 1 tsp garlic powder
– 1 tsp onion powder
– 2 pinches cayenne powder
– salt and pepper to taste
– oil for cooking (I used coconut oil, which did give it a slightly coconut-y taste.)

Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  Form mixture into 4 patties.

Heat oil over medium-high heat and cook the patties for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Flip carefully to avoid breaking them.  Serve immediately.

* I added this post to this week’s Fight Back Friday and Fresh Bites Friday.

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.

Herb-Crusted Cod Fillets and Scalloped Potatoes

Why is cooking fish such a scary undertaking?  I don’t know about you, but for me there’s something kind of intimidating about creating a meal that highlights a delicate, flaky piece of fish.  Seafood just seems a bit more gourmet than my everyday fare and when I do decide to cook it, I feel the pressure to make it right.  And that is exactly what I did with this Herb-Crusted Cod.  It came together in no time and was delicious with a side of buttery scalloped potatoes.  It tasted like a fancy, slaving-over-a-hot-stove kind of meal but was actually more of a weeknight, 30-minute success (not promising you can make this is under 30 minutes…I am the world’s slowest chopper of vegetables and so I always take recipe prep time information with a grain of salt).

If you decide to make both of these recipes for dinner (and I suggest you do!), I would suggest that you start by prepping the potatoes and the topping for the fish.  Then, you can start cooking the potatoes, assemble the fish, and let them finish in the oven together.  I used wild alaskan true cod because it was reasonably priced and came in nicely sized fillets.  I think this recipe would work with just about any fish you like, but you might have to adjust the cooking time.  I’d love to see how it turns out with salmon!

Herb-Crusted Cod
serves 4

Ingredients
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1/2 cup almond flour (coarsely ground, if you’re making your own)
– 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
– 4 small garlic cloves, minced
– 1/2 tsp cayenne
– salt and pepper, to taste
– 4 skinless cod fillets

1. Preheat the oven to 450.  Lightly grease a baking pan.

2. In a food processor, combine oil, almond flour, parsley, garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Pulse until you have a course mixture.

3. Place the cod fillets in the baking pan and sprinkle with almond flour mixture.  Press down a bit to make it stick as much as possible.

4. Bake in the oven until the tops are lightly browned and fish is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Serve immediately

Scalloped Potatoes
serves 4

Ingredients
– 2 Tbsp butter, melted
– 1 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes
– salt and pepper, to taste
– 1/3 cup grated swiss cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 450.

2. Use a mandoline to thinly slice the potatoes.  In a large bowl, toss with about half the butter and the olive oil.

3. Heat the remaining butter in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Place a layer of overlapping potato slices in the skillet to cover the bottom.

4. Toss the remaining potatoes with grated swiss cheese.  Add to the skillet, press down with a spatula, and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat.

5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the top begins to brown.  Cut into slices and serve.

* I added this post to this week’s Melt in Your Mouth MondayHearth and Soul HopFat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Whole Foods Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesday, and Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.