Friday, June 24, 2016

Salmon Nicoise Salad

Last Year's Post:  Muffuletta Sandwiches
Two Years Ago:    Chicken with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Nicoise refers to something from Nice, France.  In this case, it refers to a famous main-dish salad typically made with tuna, green beans, potatoes and eggs.  Salmon is a relatively common substitute and I wanted to use it here for two reasons:  fresh wild salmon is in season right now, and salmon has lower mercury levels than tuna.  Plus, salmon is really good for you along with the green beans, potatoes and olives.  Fresh salmon is preferable to frozen, and wild-caught is better than farmed.  Buy the best quality fish you can find - it really does make a difference.

This is a fabulous and pretty main dish salad suitable for company, and it's easy to make because you can do all the cooking in advance - all that happens at the last minute is assembly.  That makes it perfect for a summer meal.

There are four ingredients that you might consider a little fancy-schmancy, but they're worth it.  The first is haricot verts, or small French green beans.  You'll often find them pre-packaged as "French green beans" at the grocery store.  If you can't find them, use regular green beans.

The second is tiny multi-colored potatoes, which can be found pre-packaged in most stores these days.  They're really cute but if you can't find them use the tiniest potatoes you can find.

Frisee is a light green lacy lettuce that's very pretty (on the right in the picture below).  You can find it in some grocery stores or natural foods stores.  I found the red variety in a plastic container with three other types of lettuce in my local store and thought the combination of the two would be pretty, but you could always just use a bag of spring mix lettuce instead.

And finally, Nicoise olives are slightly smaller than their more common Greek cousin, kalamatas, but you can use kalamatas in a pinch - the taste is fairly similar.

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Salmon Nicoise
Serves 4

Note:  to make ahead, make the vinaigrette and refrigerate.  Cook the salmon, eggs, beans, and potatoes and refrigerate covered separately.

For the vinaigrette:
½ medium shallot, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 mashed anchovy fillets or anchovy paste, optional

12 ounces skin-on salmon fillet, preferably fresh and wild caught
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper
4 eggs, room temperature
6 ounces haricot verts (thin French green beans), trimmed
12 ounces tiny multi-colored potatoes
6 cups frisee or other lettuce
1/3 nicoise olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

For the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.  Alternately, add all ingredients except olive oil to a small bowl, then whisk olive oil in slowly.  Taste vinaigrette and adjust seasonings.

Season the salmon by brushing with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper.  Grill on an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan over medium-high heat for 4 minutes on the first side and approximately 3 minutes on the second side, until the internal temperature reaches 140d.  Remove from heat and let rest.  Remove the skin.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, then gently submerge the eggs.  Boil for 9 minutes, then remove and immediately place in an ice bath.  Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and place in the ice bath with the eggs.  When cold, remove the eggs and beans from the ice bath and pat dry.  Finally, add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook for 15-20 minutes until fork-tender.  Remove, drain, and let cool.

When ready to serve, divide the lettuce between four plates.  Break the salmon into large flakes and place in a pile on each plate.  Cut the potatoes in half (or thirds, if larger) and place next to the salmon.  Divide the haricot verts and olive between plates.  Shell the eggs and slice or cut in half, and place on each plate.  Scatter the capers on top of each salad, drizzle with vinaigrette, and serve with any remaining vinaigrette passed separately.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Last Year's Post:  Farro and Kale Salad
Two Years Ago:   Breakfast Sandwiches with Canadian Bacon, Chipotle Cheddar and Guacamole

Tomatillo salsa is great with shrimp, fish, chicken, pork, and eggs (think huevos rancheros).  It's a great sauce for tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and enchiladas.  Roasting the tomatillos and jalapenos gives them a wonderful deep flavor, much like my favorite red tomato salsa.  This recipe only takes a few minutes to make, and the salsa freezes beautifully for later.

If you're not familiar with tomatillos, they look like this on the inside.

The outer husk is papery and loose, but the inner fruit should be firm to the touch. Remove the papery outer husk and rinse the tomatillos to get rid of the sticky stuff before roasting.  Or I should say, charring.  You really do want the charred parts - they add great flavor.

After that, it's just a simple matter of blending everything and letting it sit to develop the flavors.  If you've ever had New Mexican cuisine at a restaurant,  they ask you whether you want red sauce, green sauce, or "Christmas" (both red and green).  Next time you make enchiladas, try them Christmas style - you'll be amazed at how good they taste.

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Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Makes 2 cups

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 to 4 jalapenos, to taste, stemmed, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
¼ cup chopped white or yellow onion, soaked for 5 minutes in cold water, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

Heat broiler, positioning a rack at highest setting under the heat.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and place tomatillos on top, stem side down.  Add jalapeno halves to the pan, skin side up.  Broil 2-5 minutes until some tomatillos and jalapenos are well charred.  Remove the jalapenos as they are charred, and turn the tomatillos over.  Continue to broil, turning tomatillos and removing jalapenos and tomatillos as they are done.

Transfer the tomatillos, jalapenos, and any accumulated juice to a blender.  Add onion, garlic, cilantro and ¼ cup water and blend to a coarse puree.  Transfer to a bowl and thin as desired with water.  Taste and adjust salt.  Set aside for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

The salsa may be placed in jars with tight-fitting lids and frozen for several months.  Thaw overnight before using. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sliders

Last Year's Post: Mini Shrimp Tacos
Two Years Ago:  Grilled Lobster Cobb Salad

I really like the idea of cooking buffalo chicken sliders in a slow cooker, because you can make a double batch for a party with very little work (and without heating up your house if it's summer).  For some reason buffalo chicken sliders seem like party food to me, how about you?  They would be perfect for a summer party outdoors with some cold beer, for example.  You could serve them along side some little burger sliders for the beef eaters and everyone would be happy.

Several of the recipes I found called for ranch dressing and blue cheese crumbles, which I thought was interesting enough that I included it here.  The result has a slightly lighter taste overall (which I liked) than if you use straight blue cheese dressing, but it's totally up to you either way.

The recipe is incredibly easy - just season some boneless skinless chicken thighs and throw them in the slow cooker with some hot sauce.  When they're done, they are so tender that you can just shred them right in the pot.

Assemble the sliders and offer pickle and jalapeno slices on the side for those who are so inclined.  Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand - these little babies are messy unless you shove the entire slider in your mouth all at once, which would be interesting to watch.

One last note:  the exact number of sliders you can make depends on the size of your rolls and how high you pile them.  My rolls were about 3" across and I didn't go too wild piling on the chicken, which is how I arrived at the calculation of 12 sliders.

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Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sliders
Makes approximately 12 sliders depending on the size of the buns

1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 ¼ cups hot sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
12 small slider rolls
Ranch dressing and blue cheese crumbles (or blue cheese dressing)
Tomato slices (from 3-4 small tomatoes)
Green leaf lettuce
Pickle slices, optional
Jalapeno slices, optional

Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne and place in a slow cooker.  Pour in the hot sauce.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.

Shred the chicken with two forks right in the slow cooker.

Brush the cut side of the buns with olive oil and place under a broiler for a few seconds until browned, watching closely so they don’t burn.

To assemble the sandwiches, place a piece of lettuce on the bottom half of each bun, followed by a tomato slice and some shredded chicken.  Top with ranch dressing and blue cheese crumbles.  Serve with pickles and jalapeno slices on the side for those who want to add them.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Blackberry Hoisin Ginger Pork Tenderloin

Last Year's Post: Red-on-Red Chicken Salad
Two Years Ago:  Chicken Gaston Gerard

Pork tenderloin is one of the most popular cuts of pork because it's so tender and doesn't dry out, plus it's so easy to cook. It pairs particularly well with fruit-based sauces.  Although blackberry preserves are the main ingredient in this sauce, it's not as sweet as you would think due to the hoisin sauce, ginger and vinegar.  The taste is complex and delicious even though it's very easy to make.

Speaking of ginger, have you discovered food tubes?  They make life so much easier.  I currently have four in my refrigerator - anchovy paste, grated ginger, wasabi paste and lemongrass paste.  I usually have a tube of tomato paste also.  No more tedious grating of ginger and throwing the rest away, or opening a can of tomato paste and using one tablespoon and tossing the rest.  Or worse yet, dealing with a tin of oily little fish.  You use exactly what you need and the rest keeps fresh for months.  You'll find the veggie/herb tubes like ginger and lemongrass in the produce section of your store near the herbs.  The anchovy paste will be next to the tins of anchovies, the wasabi paste will be in the Asian section, and the tomato paste tubes will be next to cans of tomato paste.  Try one, they're great!

Anyway, back to the pork tenderloin - this was a very easy, delicious and healthy dinner.  I served it with couscous and French green beans and felt that it was totally company-worthy.  We had leftovers so we thin-sliced the pork and served it over salad greens with a drizzle of the sauce and some fresh blackberries the next day and it was equally great cold.

One last note:  careful with the hot pan when it comes out of the oven!  I once burned my hand badly when I turned around for a second and grabbed the handle out of habit.  Put a towel or a mitt over the handle to remind yourself.

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Blackberry Hoisin Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup blackberry preserves
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 (1 ¼ pound) pork tenderloin
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sliced green onions, for garnish (optional)

To prepare the sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds.  Stir in blackberry preserves, hoisin sauce, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  Remove about ½ cup for glazing the pork and set aside the saucepan with the remainder.

Preheat oven to 425d.

While the oven preheats, heat olive oil in a large oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the pork on all sides with salt and pepper.  Carefully add the pork tenderloin to the pan and sear on all four sides for 1-2 minutes per side to brown.  Brush with some of the glaze and place the pan in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Brush with the glaze again and return to the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes until the internal temperature is 140d.  Remove and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the pork is resting, re-heat the sauce.  Slice the pork thinly and drizzle with the sauce.  Garnish with optional green onions and pass the remaining sauce separately at the table.