Slow Cooked Salmon with Lentils

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Not sure if you’ve noticed, but I basically never blog about fish recipes. And that’s not because I don’t eat fish–I eat a lot of fish. The thing is, I cook it the same way almost every time. And who wants to read about a whole-roasted trout that’s just been stuffed with some lemon slices, salt and pepper, and baked for 10 minutes. It’s not even a recipe. It’s a cooking technique so simple that screenwriters use it as the de facto meal in movies about guys on the lam. Even if you’re hitching rides on freight trains, you have the equipment to catch a river fish, gut it and cook it over a flame. 

Recently, though, I saw someone mention “slow cooked” salmon on Twitter. I gave it a try and, wow! Fish cooks so quickly that “slow” cooking means just a few more minutes, really. Turning your oven down to 250 degrees and tripling your cooking time creates the silkiest, most tender, and most richly-colored salmon I’ve ever had. 

This recipe, in particular, hit me when I was on a health kick. Lots of nutriets are packed into this dinner, with the fish stealing the spotlight. You’ll want to brighten up the earthy lentils, sweet potatoes and greens mixture with a simple, acidic mustard vinaigrette. So good and so good for you.

I was inspired by this recipe on Epicurious.

Slow Cooked Salmon with Greens, Lentils and Yams

12 oz lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 bunch chopped greens (kale, swiss chard, etc.)
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup water
4 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets

For the Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Cook lentils according to package instructions. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. Heat heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. When warm, add olive oil and garlic. Cook garlic 1-2 minutes. Then add in sweet potatoes. Turn heat to medium-low and cover, heating sweet potatoes for about 2 minutes. Remove lid and stir. Continue to cook until sweet potatoes are softened.

3. Add lentils and greens to sweet potatoes. Season mixture with salt, pepper and cumin. Add in honey and water, stirring gentle to evenly distribute the honey. Cook until greens are wilted.

4. Season salmon portions with salt and pepper. Place fish on top of lentil mixture. Transfer to oven and cook for 30 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. When combined, gradually whisk in olive oil until a loose dressing forms.

5. Remove mixture from oven. Plate one portion of the salmon with 1/4 of the lentils mixture. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Serves 4.

Banoffee Pie Recipe

If you like my blog, I’d be ever-so grateful if you might nominate me for the Saveur Blog Awards. It’s a long shot, but worth a try! Thank you!

 

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If there’s anything I love more than an incredible meal at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant or a home-cooked meal made with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the closest farmer’s market, it’s a Whopper Jr. or a dessert made out of a box. My sister Jill, an amazing cook with admirable food philosophies (a woman who once spent nearly a week making an opera cake just for fun), preaches that the best, most crowd-pleasing dessert is out-of-the-box Ghirardelli brownies. And the thing is, any half-wit can tear open the package, haphazardly toss in the required eggs and vegetable oil, and bake those suckers. No matter what, they emerge from the oven as a fudgy, perfect mess.

 

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This recipe is similarly fool proof, low-brow, and fantastic. I especially love this banoffee pie recipe because you can find all of the ingredients at a 7-11 or your local bodega/tiny Korean grocery. (Note: bodegas and tiny Korean groceries probably feel identical if you’re not a New Yorker, but there are some serious distinctions. Yes, both sell cigarettes, lotto tickets and lots of cereal, but at a Korean grocery has a bizarrely gigantic selection of international chocolate bars, while a bodega has a deli counter where you can get a turkey sandwich. Tiny Korean groceries are not to be confused with medium Korean groceries, which are the ones with buffet bars down the middle. Anyway, I digress….)

 

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Banoffee pie is a super-sweet, nostalgic treat that tastes just good. Kind of like a homemade cupcake or PBJ… it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted, but it’s just good. In an episode of Mind of a Chef, April Bloomfield taught me that banoffee pie is a delightful British concoction to come out of the 1970s. But the first time I heard of banoffee pie, I hadn’t yet seen her explanation and tutorial. Dan and I were in London, chowing down at a pub, and decided we’d order dessert. The server listed of the things we expected– apple cobbler, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate cake– and then the outlier, banoffee pie.

“What’s that?” said the tourists.

“It’s banana. And toffee. In a pie.” said the grumpy waitress.

Ah, yes. Self-explanatory indeed, madam. We’ll take one slice… Bob’s your uncle.

 

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Anyway, it was delish and here’s how you make it at home. (Heads up! This crazy simple recipe does require about 4 hours of prep time. You won’t be doing much during this time, but do prepare for a day of pie-making!)
 

BANOFFEE PIE RECIPE
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 pre-made 9-inch graham cracker or cookie pie crust
  2. 2 14-oz cans of condensed milk
  3. 4 large bananas
  4. 1 can of Reddi-wip
  5. 1 Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar
Instructions
  1. 1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour condensed milk into a pie plate or round cake pan. Cover with foil and crimp tightly. Find a larger roasting pan and place condensed milk in center. Then, fill roasting pan with hot water until water reaches at least halfway up the sides of the pie/cake pan, but doesn’t touch the foil.
  2. 2. Place water bath in oven and bake for about 2 hours, refilling water here-and-there to maintain level. The condensed milk will have turned to a beautiful brown, caramel color.
  3. 3. Remove cake or pie pan from water bath and transfer toffee to a bowl, giving it a good stir. Refrigerate bowl until toffee is completely cool, at least one hour.
  4. 4. When cool, get ready to do your assembling! If you’re bringing the pie to someone’s house, I would pack up your bag now– toffee, whole bananas, pie crust, whipped cream and chocolate still in their own containers. You want to be able to keep this refrigerated once you top with whipped cream, otherwise it will melt all over the place!
  5. Slice bananas at an angle so that you get long, flat slices of the fruit. Layer them into your pie crust until you have an even layer. (Of course you could make your own pie crust; it’s not hard and definitely worth a try! I’m just a big sucker for the pre-made ones made from Keebler chocolate cookies. I warned you this would be low-brow, right?) Then, cover the bananas with some of the toffee. Repeat until all of your bananas and toffee have been layered into the pie shell–I usually get 4-5 layers total, 2-3 layers of banana, 2 of toffee.
  6. 5. Top with whipped cream (Again, make your own if you have the time and the gumption. This swap is probably worth it; mmm homemade whipped cream!), using your Reddi-wip nozzle to make elegant patterns. Using a zester or fine cheese grater, grate chocolate over the top to taste! Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Hillary Reeves http://hillreeves.com/wp/

Ultimate Granola Recipe

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My issue of Food & Wine last month was all about eating better, including pages and pages about the benefits whole grains. Ugh, I love white bread and pastries made with refined flour. But I welcomed the advice and decided to get started by finishing up the year-old package of Quaker Oats in my cabinet. (I hate oatmeal…) To be clear, I covered the oatmeal in honey and sugar and butter before eating, though.

Granola is great IF it’s homemade. Store-bought granola always has a weird bitter, plasticky taste to me. When you make granola at home, you get toasty, crumbly bits that you can bake just to your liking. Also, when done right, it basically feels and tastes like cookies, but you can eat it for breakfast. There are a few people in my life who make incredible granola at home, and, together, they turned this whole grain skeptic into a believer in the stuff.

My oldest sister makes granola so good that we demand it ahead of time when we plan a visit to her house for the holidays. A mason jar of her golden mixture has been known to wait under the Christmas tree for each of us; she apologizes as if it’s not a legitimate gift, meanwhile we’d been crossing our fingers that it would make another appearance. Leigh likes her granola like she likes her ice cream–packed with add-ins. She inspires this minimalist to take a few risks and when it comes to my own cereal-making.

The second master that I know, a woman I babysit for, often has trays of her granola cooling all over the kitchen when I arrive. She and her kids devour granola, which she stores in a cabinet that seems to be dedicated entirely to canisters of her concoction and the ingredients she uses to whip it up. Never at a shortage for slivered almonds, dried apricots, and the best oats, she taught me that the key to her incredible recipe is olive oil. It adds a savory depth that you don’t get with vegetable oil, which is more commonly used.

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Finally, my youngest sister taught me that her delish granola benefits from low, slow baking. She insists that baking at 250 degrees for more than an hour makes all the difference. And I have to admit, she’s really onto something. Just like with great barbecue, low gentle heat over a long period of time keeps things tender and coaxes out flavors you didn’t know were there.

Under the influence of all of these experts, I culled together my ultimate recipe. Try it out–you’ll be eating more whole grains in no time and those grains will be dessert-flavored!

A couple quick notes: I usually use whatever nuts I have handy, whole (pecans, almonds, pistachios). I like them whole, but almond slices are a favorite of the women who inspire me! Also, dried cherries are incredible, but pricey. If I can’t afford them one week, I skip dried fruit all together since raisins or dried cranberries taste pretty lame once you’re used to cherries. Instead, I eat my granola with a spoonful of raspberry jam if I don’t add fruit. Your call, though!

Granola Recipe

1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries, chopped

 

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Melt butter over medium heat. Be careful not to let burn!! Add sugar, salt, honey and olive oil. Stir to combine using a rubber spatula and continue to heat gently, until sugar has dissolved. Turn off heat.

 

2. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts, and coconut chips. Combine with butter/sugar mixture and toss until oats are coated.

 

3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, about one hour. Stir granola a few times along the way, creating clusters or preventing them as you like–I like to create LOTS of chunky clusters!

 

4. Remove granola from oven and stir in dried cherries while still hot. Let cool and store at room temperature for up to three weeks. I like to eat mine over Greek yogurt before work; it’s the perfect, ready-to-go breakfast for hectic weekday mornings!

Korean Barbecue Bulgogi Recipe

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I feel like I talk a lot about Korean food on here, but those posts always get lots of views, so I’m guessing you’re not tired of it yet! Today, we’re talking Korean barbecue… bulgogi, specifically.

I asked Dan to teach me how to make bulgogi a while back. His mom usually sends him home with lots of it when he goes to visit for holidays or long weekends. But I wanted to try making it for myself instead of relying on his trips home for my fix. Rather than his mom emailing a recipe for us to try, she promised to show him next time he was home. That’s how I learned that if you ask an ajumma for her bulgogi recipe, she’ll need to show you with her hands. When Dan returned with his knowledge, it was all, “you’ll need a palmful of this,” “an index finger-sized amount of that,” or “add enough water to reach your knuckles when you submerge your hand.” After a few tries, we literally got a feel for how the proportions work.

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You make bulgogi by marinating thinly sliced ribeye, but the marinade I’ll outline below is incredibly versatile. Use it for beef, thinly sliced pork belly, pork ribs, pork tenderloin, even baby octopus or squid! I like to make a big batch of this marinade early in the month. Then, I package portions of my protein plus marinate in large freezer bags and freeze. You can defrost one of the bags for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Just fry up the meat, or use a grill pan, and serve  with kimchi and steamed rice. Or, have a little fun and make lettuce wraps, tacos or sandwiches. I like the lettuce wrap route if I’m having people over.

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I’ve learned that nothing pleases a crowd quite like a Korean barbecue feast, and it’s SO easy to put together once you have meat already marinating. Simply head out to Han Ah Reum and buy some panchan (or, make them yourself if you have the time and superhuman ability to plan things in advance!), kimchi and whatever other sides you like — maybe some mandoo (dumplings) or pajeon (savory pancake). As Dan likes to say, Korean meals are “modular,” so it’s so easy to add or take away pieces, creating new menus with the same elements! Plan a dinner party in no time, just make sure to have some bulgogi at-the-ready. Here’s how:

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Step One: Buy your meat — if you can find an Asian market nearby, thinly sliced ribeye or thinly sliced pork belly is traditional. However, Western butchers usually don’t have a deli slicer like you’d need for this, so it’s hard to get if you don’t have an Asian grocery. Instead, a great substitute could be pork tenderloin, cut into bite-sized pieces. I usually work with 1 lb. of meat at a time.

Step Two: You will also need a couple of Asian ingredients that might take a bit more tracking down. Make sure to find them ahead of time at a local Asian market, international aisle or online: gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), sesame oil and good soy sauce. A lot of grocery stores in the middle of nowhere nowadays have soy sauce and sesame oil, but it’s way cheaper at Asian marts!

Step Three: In a large freezer bag, combine a sizeable glug of soy sauce (about 1/3 cup), a couple spoonfuls of sugar (we use brown, you could use caster, or even honey), another spoonful or two of sesame oil, and a couple heaping spoonfuls of gochujang– or make them less heaping if you like your food less spicy.

Step Four: In a food processor, puree half of an onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Add puree to bag. (Pureeing is completely optional. A lot of folks add sliced onion and minced garlic instead, which is nice too. The sliced onions give the final dish a little more texture.) Grate about ½ tsp of ginger into bag. Also, chop 1-2 green onions and add.

Step Five: Then, add in your meat, shake to combine and let mixture marinate for at least one hour. Note that at this point, you can stick your Ziploc bags straight in the freezer. When you’re planning a Korean meal, defrost one bag in the fridge. If you’re not freezing your bulgogi, you can leave the meat to marinate for up to a day in the fridge.

Step Six: When ready to cook, use a grill pan or thick-bottomed skillet on high heat. Brown meat and cook through (8-10 minutes). Heads up: this very saucy marinade will caramelize and leave your can caked in crispy bits. I usually deglaze once I remove the meat, but while the pan is still hot, to make clean-up a bit easier! Serve with some freshly chopped green onion and/or sesame seeds for garnish!

Once you’ve tried this simple version, try adding grated Asian pear in place of the sugar, or add an Asian vinegar for variation. “In Southern regions,” says Dan, people sometimes put pineapple in their bulgogi. Often you’ll see this in Hawaiian barbecue, too, which resembles Korean-style in flavor. It’s very sweet, but really tasty when you’ve got a great piece of fruit!

Rules for Nachos

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Is there really a wrong way to make nachos? Part of me is inclined to say “no,” but I’ve also been the person at a party standing next to a tray of soggy, cheesy chips. The person who digs into the platter, pulls out a chip, and sees life in slow motion as the chip collapses beneath its own weight. I catch the falling bits in my other hand and momentarily debate the best way to eat a handful of cheese and sour cream. I either have to find a napkin (ineffective), wash my hands (and risk getting nacho goo on the doorknob/light switch/faucet), or… eat nachos, like an animal, out of the palm of my hand (the single most repulsive human act).

So, in order to prevent this madness, here are some tips I’ve picked up on nacho architecture. Take heed and keep your Superbowl snacks sanitary.

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Salsa!? No, no, no.
When I was a kid, “nachos” meant dumping a jar of Tostitos salsa over a plate of Tostitos, sprinkling some pre-grated Kraft cheese on top and microwaving for a few minutes. I distinctly remember doing/eating this while watching a Ren & Stimpy marathon (so I was, max, 8-years-old?) and needing a spoon to scoop up all the sludge. As an adult, I’ve completely nixed any salsa. Instead, I like to make a quick pickle of thinly-sliced radishes (added at the end, so they stay chilled) and I add lots of pickeled jalapenos (baked into the cheese to take away a but of the intensity). Then, right before serving, I drizzle on my favorite hot sauce– anything from Tabasco to Sriracha. Those ingredients add the spice and acidity of salsa, but keep things from turning into a drippy mess.

Texture is everything.
The key to great nachos involves strategizing what gets baked and what gets added post-oven. Ultimately, you should aim to protect chip integrity and too much moisture is the enemy! I like to bake nachos with just my protein (beans, meat), pickled jalapenos (drained) and cheese. I layer on everything else later– sour cream, veggies, cilantro, hot sauce, chopped avocado. ‘Cause who wants hot avocado and sour cream!?

Keep it colorful.
Have you ever been to a crappy sports bar, ordered nachos, and received a completely yellow mound of food? Ew. Adding color makes things look interesting, but it makes your nachos taste better too. Green avocado and freshly chopped cilantro, a fiery red hot sauce dribbled on top, bursts of white from radish and bubbling cheese, and, my favorite, blue corn tortilla chips. These chips are usually thicker than their yellow or white counterparts, making them better vessels, too!

It’s really about the cheese.
I’ve talked a lot about every other part of the nacho, but what’s a nacho without cheese? And, while I’m usually a low-brow gal who loves a Big Mac, this is the area where my snobbery kicks in. Grate cheese yourself. Pre-grated varieties in zipper packs taste like nothing. I like to use a combination of Monterey Jack and Mexican melting cheese. You can often find “quesadilla cheese” or “Mexican style mozzarella” in good grocery store cheese sections. If I feel zesty, I’ll also get some queso fresco for sprinkling on top– this one used as a “final touch” after baking.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of making creamy queso like this, but I haven’t tried it yet!

Cook meat ahead.
A bit of a no-brainer, but nachos work fantastically as leftover food. Have leftover chili or rotisserie chicken? Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and put it on some nachos!

In conclusion: Here’s how I like to make nachos. Blue corn tortillas topped with scattered spoonfuls of refried beans, pickled jalapenos, shredded chicken and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Finish with diced avocado, pickled red radishes, chopped cilantro, chopped onions, dollops of sour cream, and lots of hot sauce! Oh, and for the love of God, put away the sliced black olives forever and ever, amen.