Saturday, August 2, 2014

simplest kale salad with lemony vinaigrette

Kale.  That glorious, magical green that was yanked from obscurity just a few short years ago, has now been catapulted from the murky, dank back corner of the produce section to front and center of every healthy eater's dinner table. 

Kale is one of my favorite ingredients to use during the Alaskan summer months.  While it is at its peak in the "Lower 48" states in late fall and early winter, Alaska's cool, sunny weather produces bushels and bushels of the hearty, leafy green through summer and fall.  It turns up in many of my dishes in one way or another, thanks to a healthy stock of it in my container garden, as well as beautiful supplies at our local farmers markets. 
I skipped the farmers market last weekend, however, and instead picked vegetables at Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm, a local you-pick-'em farm in Palmer, Alaska.  Pyrah's is a magical place for me, and I make the hour long trek from Anchorage to Palmer at least once a summer to get my hands on some truly fresh Alaskan produce.  Here's a few pics from my trip last weekend.  Kohlrabi bigger than my head, I tell you.  MAGICAL! 

My favorite type of kale is Lacinato or Tuscan kale, which is used frequently in Italy.  It's long, slender strands make beautiful raw salads.  I save the curly and Russian kale for soups, stews, and sautés.  Pyrah's Lacinato kale was a thing of perfection, so I helped myself to heaps of it. 
This salad recipe comes from my dear friend Ann, my wine and food soul sister-from-another-mister.  Ann and I were destined for greatness the moment she picked me up in a bar.  Yes, in a bar.  You see, I was on a date at this bar a few years back.  Ann just happened to be sitting next to me in the bar listening in on the conversation I was having with my date, and interrupted us to say: "You guys sound like fun.  Can I join you?"  We talked the rest of the night!  Needless to say, the dude didn't last, but I got a lifelong friendship out of that date.  That's a solid WIN in my book!  

As with most of my recipes, this salad is very simple.  The key to any simple recipe is to start with GOOD INGREDIENTS.  When you have good ingredients, you don't need to complicate things!  On this, Ann and I are always in agreement.  When I make this salad, I use fresh kale, toasted walnuts, and high quality Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  I never use bottled lemon juice- always squeeze it fresh for the best taste. 
Kale can be tough to eat when its raw, so it's important to dress the kale and massage it with your hands a bit and then let it sit for about 20-25 minutes to gently break down some of its tougher fibers.  Massage your salad?  Sure, it sounds weird.  Just trust me.  Weird is good sometimes. 
And by all means, dress your salad with pretty and edible Nasturtium petals if you have them.  I have them growing by the hundreds at my house, so they're appearing pretty much everywhere.  In my cereal, my morning yogurt, in my ice cream, on my toast...
However, this salad would be perfect topped with grilled Alaska salmon, which is how Ann served it to me the first time, or seared Alaska scallops or spot shrimp.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Kale Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette

(Serves 2 large salads, or 4 small ones)

8 cups kale (about one large bunch, preferably Lacinato or Tuscan), stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons shallots or red onion (finely minced if you don't have a blender)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup
several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt

(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place walnuts on a sheet tray and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden and toasted.  Do not burn!  Once they cool, roughly chop into large pieces.

(2) Place the shallots or red onion in a food processor (or use a stick blender) until finely minced.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until blended.

(2) Add enough dressing to your liking to the kale, toss thoroughly (massage with your hands for best results), and let sit for 20-25 minutes to tenderize the greens.  Before serving, add half of the raisins, half of the walnuts, and half of the cheese and toss well.  Top the salad with the rest of the walnuts, raisins, and cheese and sprinkle Nasturtium petals on top if you have them.  Serve the remaining dressing on the side (if any). 

xo H

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

herb-crusted alaskan salmon with roasted lemons

My friend Mera and I have been pals for nearly 10 years.  The story of how we met at a Halloween party, when Mera donned a giant paper mache hamburger costume that she and her mother made while Mera was in elementary school, has left an indelible mark on my heart and is mentioned in one of my favorite posts on this blog.  We've seen each other through love, heartbreak, new homes, new jobs, children (hers), and puppy terror (mine). 
Mera and her best friend Katie recently started a new blog called Red House West (they both have red houses, one in Oregon and one in Alaska.  How cute is that?!) which contains wonderful, inventive, budget-friendly design ideas and projects for the home.  I love it, and it's getting a ton of online buzz. 
Look!  It's me!  In the kitchen!  Credit to Mera for the beautiful photos, and the beautiful apron she made for me.  LOVE.
Initially, we hatched a plan to do a blog post together while I was scouring a local furniture store for new bedroom furniture.  After texting her several pictures of different pieces, I was hoping she would just tell me what to buy and then design my bedroom for free.  And frankly, I'm still hoping she will do that. 
But Mera had a different idea, and invited me over to cook a Summer Solstice dinner last weekend featuring an Alaskan staple: frozen Alaskan salmon.  And even made me a beautiful new apron to mark the occasion, which now holds the top spot in my extensive apron collection (formerly held by the apron her mother-in-law Katy bought for me.  A girl never has too many aprons, or too many shoes.  Amen.)
For the record, I will continue to pester Mera for free design advice on my bedroom.  For now, I give you the recipe for the most perfect company-friendly salmon you will ever make.

Deciding what to make for our Solstice dinner was easy.  During spring and early summer, Alaskans engage in a traditional pastime known generally as Cleaning Out the Freezer.  Many, if not most, Alaskans pack their freezers during the months of July and August with our abundance of red ("Sockeye") and silver ("Coho") salmon.  So naturally, when many of us still have large stocks of frozen salmon fillets in the months of April, May, and June, we go to work coming up with as many creative ways to cook salmon as possible so as to empty our freezers for summer's replenishing bounty.
Think Forrest Gump, but with salmon instead of shrimp.  Salmon skewers, barbequed salmon, salmon cakes, salmon salad, roasted salmon, salmon curry, grilled salmon, salmon dip...
A beautiful silver salmon fillet from the waters of Prince William Sound,
thanks to my Dad's boat and a great salmon run!
My sister Holly originally told me about this recipe.  She was looking for a fast, no fuss salmon recipe to serve for company.  Her guests LOVED it.  And it's no wonder why: it's packed with flavor!  The combination of tangy Dijon mustard, bright and fresh parsley and dill, and crunchy panko bread crumbs provides a perfect accompaniment to the unique, delicately-bold flavor of Alaskan salmon.
There are so many aspects of this dish that I appreciate.  For starters, it's easy, but it looks elegant and impressive.  These two qualities make it the perfect dish for entertaining.  In addition, it doesn't need to be served piping hot.  The salmon is just as delicious at room temperature, which simplifies timing for dinner parties.  And, like most recipes in my arsenal, the measurements are forgiving.  When making this, I don't even measure the mustard, the bread crumbs, or the herbs anymore (although I was a little heavy-handed with the parsley this time- I will use less and chop it more finely the next time I make it).

Just about the only thing you need to worry about with this recipe is the length of time it spends in the oven.  NO ONE likes overcooked salmon.  Not even people that think they like overcooked salmon.  (They just don't know any better.  Bless them.)  I used a rather thin fillet of silver salmon, and 15 minutes in the oven was perfect.  If you have a thicker fillet, say red salmon or King salmon, you may want to add on a couple minutes, or check the salmon by flaking it with a fork in the thickest part of the fillet after 15 minutes.
A rare action shot.  I'm toying with the idea of a Kickstarter campaign for a new camera.  Kidding (maybe).
The dinner was an absolute blast.  Credit to Mera's husband, Chester, for his incredible patience as we photographed nearly every aspect of the preparation.  It was so fun!  Mera's kitchen, which they remodeled several years ago, is a dream to cook in.  So much space!  So much light!  So many nice kitchen appliances!  And did I mention the SPACE?  My God, I've been cooking in a postage-stamp of a kitchen for far too long. 
I had a difficult time editing out any of the pictures that Mera sent to me, so I didn't.  Those of you who have been fans of Chena Girl Cooks for some time now (bless you!) may be overwhelmed by all the photos!  Ol' Heidikins usually just picks a couple of the photos that turn out best and calls it a day.  But this was a special post, and deserved special photographic attention.
We served our salmon alongside (1) whole wheat couscous that I spiked with parsley, dill, lemon zest, olive oil, and plenty of salt & pepper, and (2) a salad with roasted beets and goat cheese gorgeously made by Mera's hubby Chester.
I really hope you try this recipe and leave your comments below!  And I'd love to hear about your favorite salmon recipes, too.  I'm always looking for new, creative ideas for preparing Alaska's most perfect food.  Who knows, maybe it will appear on the blog one day soon.  More importantly, it may grace my table!  Because I still have several fillets of frozen salmon to cook before fishing season begins.  Happy cooking!

Herb-Crusted Side of Alaskan Salmon with Roasted Lemons
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 side of wild Alaskan salmon (about 2-3 pounds- I used a silver salmon fillet), pin bones removed
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling lemons
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2-3 lemons, quartered with seeds removed.
parchment paper
(1) Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Toss panko, herbs, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Set aside.
(2) Place salmon skin-side down on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread Dijon mustard on salmon, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle herbed panko evenly on top, patting down gently.  Place lemons around salmon and drizzle with olive oil.
(3) Roast salmon for 15 minutes (or a couple minutes more for thicker fillets).  Once salmon flakes easily, it's done.  Transfer salmon to platter with lemons and serve.
xo H