Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dinner Tonight--Walnut Crusted Salmon Fillets

It was a dark and stormy night.  No, really.  It was dark.  It was raining.  And it was cold.  It was the kind of night you wanted to stay at home with a steaming bowl of soup and a crackling fire. But that was not meant to be.  I was meeting friends for an early movie before dinner, and because I knew that John and I would be returning home about the same time, I wanted to prepare something for dinner that would be ready for the oven when we got there.

Walnut crusted salmon fillets was the perfect dish.  A delicious healthy dinner full of heart-healthy  antioxidants and phytonutrients that would be able to be prepared ahead of time, parked in the refrigerator, and roasted in a matter of minutes.  A good choice for a dark and stormy night.

Salmon ready for the oven

Walnut Crusted Salmon Fillets
 Serves 4

4 6-ounce salmon fillets, whatever kind of salmon you prefer
1 cup lightly toasted chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 teaspoons low fat mayonnaise combined with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine the walnuts, bread crumbs, melted butter, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. 

Place salmon fillets on an oiled, or silpat-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.
Spread one teaspoon (or less) of the mustard-mayonnaise on each fillet and top with the walnut mixture, pressing into fish.

Bake until just done 12-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and your preference of doneness.

Cook's Note:  A quick and delicious weeknight meal also works well for dinner parties.  The salmon can be prepared ahead of time and kept refrigerated until baking.  If you don't like walnuts, why not try pitachios or hazelnuts.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I had just returned from my mother's house where we had watched TV chef, Michael Chiarello, construct a picnic sandwich using a home made focaccia.

The day was cold and windy, and the thought of the  smell of hot and yeasty baking bread wafting through the house was all I needed to consider making my own focaccia. I planned to be working at home the rest of the afternoon anyway, and so what if I had no yeast? There was pizza dough in the freezer.

Focaccia, the flat oven-baked Italian bread, is thought to have originated with the Etruscans or the Greeks.  The word, focaccia,comes from the Latin panis focacius--bread baked in the fireplace.Focaccia is baked in either a round or oblong stretched into shape in an oiled pan. It can be thick or thin and soft or crisp.  The dough's distinctive top  is dotted with one's fingertips to create wells in which the fruity olive oil pools.  It is usually topped with herbs, such as rosemary and salt. This rustic dish emerges from the oven golden and delicious perfect for snacks, lunch, picnics, or a great accompaniment to dinner.

Making focaccia differs from pizza in that the dough rises three times before it is baked.  Carol Field, in her book, The Italian Baker,  explains the origins of both beautifully. When I removed the pizza dough ( about one pound) from the freezer I  put it in a bowl rubbed with oil to defrost and come to room temperature since its first rising took place before going into the freezer.

The next step is to knead the dough lightly until smooth on a flour-covered work surface. Roll  or stretch dough out to approximately 12 x 10 inch rectangle, brush off any excess flour and  transfer to an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Brush top with olive oil , cover and let rise about 20 minutes.

Now the fun part. Press your fingers into the risen dough to make even indentations all over.  Brush with additional olive oil--be generous here--sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sea salt. Let rise again for about 20 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes until focaccia is golden brown.

And try to wait until the focaccia cools down a bit before tearing into it!

After making the savory focaccia, I came across an article online--sorry, I don't remember where--and I just had to try the sweet focaccia mentioned in the article. 

This time dried fruits that I had on hand--1/4 cup each of dried cherries, cranberries, and apricots, and chopped rosemary were kneaded into the dough after it defrosted; put in an oiled bowl and brought to room temperature.

The rimmed baking sheet was coated with some oil and butter this time and dough rolled out and fit into the pan. The dough was brushed with melted butter, covered, and set to rest for about 30 minutes.

The dough was then dimpled as before and baked in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until golden. I didn't have time for a third rise, but I don't think it mattered.

When the focaccia came from the oven I brushed it with melted butter and sprinkled it with demerara sugar.

Although we ate some of this when it came out of the oven,  I think slices of this sweet focaccia might be nice for breakfast or a brunch as well as with some after dinner cheese.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dinner Tonight--Balsamic Chicken Breasts

Balsamic chicken breasts were a favorite of my clients when I was working as a personal chef.  They have a lot going for them.  They are quick to prepare,  they hold well for reheating if necessary, the ingredients are easy to come by, and they certainly are tasty.

And finding myself with all the ingredients on hand, they are dinner tonight.

Balsamic Chicken Breasts
The original recipe is from Pierre Franey's Cusine Rapide
Serves 4

4 6-8 ounce chicken breast halves
1/2 pound small mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half (larger mushrooms may be sliced)
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (you don't need the 25 year old stuff here)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
sprig of fresh thyme or a sprinkling of dried thyme
2 tablespoons sweet butter

Dredge chicken breasts in seasoned flour.  Heat olive oil in skillet, brown breasts about 3 minutes.  Turn.

Scatter garlic cloves and mushrooms around chicken.  Brown for another 3 minutes.

Add balsamic vinegar, chicken broth, bay leaf and thyme.  Cover skillet tightly and simmer for about 10 minutes, turning pieces to baste, until chicken is tender.

Remove chicken from skillet.  Reduce sauce,  Remove whole herb, if using, and garlic cloves.  Off heat, swirl in butter, and return chicken to sauce.

This is nice served with string beans or a green salad.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Weekend

Cold and blustery outside, this weekend proved to be warm and cozy at our house.

Friday night chesse crispettes perfect with a Negroni
Saturday morning bran muffin
A cup of turkey chili for lunch between errands

A healthy dinner of roasted mushroom and string bean farro salad from Closet Cooking

Sunday brunch potatoes and eggs

Sunday dinner half time skirt steak sandwiches

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dinner Tonight

To me, there could be no better antidote to two weeks of overeating, than a big old bowl of escarole and beans.  Not only will a bowl of escarole and beans make you feel virtuous about your diet, but it just may give your immune system a boost.

Escarole is at its peak from December to April. And as are all leafy green vegetables, it is low in calories and high in dietary fiber and antioxidants. Not to mention the fact that a steaming bowl of fragrant greens and beans is filling and delicious.

Chances are you have most of the ingredients in your pantry right now. All you need to do is get to the market and pick up a couple of heads of fresh escarole and start chopping.

I used two heads of escarole, about 1 1/2 pounds, for dinner tonight.  You will need to wash the escarole leaves under running water and drain them.  Slice leaves into 1-inch strips, removing thick stems if necessary.

Heat some olive oil with some crushed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Saute about 1 minute.  Then add the greens by handfuls, stirring until they start to wilt before adding more.  It will look like a mountain of greens, but don't worry, they will cook down quickly.  Stir until all are coated with oil.

Add about a cup of low-sodium chicken broth or water--depending on how much escarole you are cooking--and cook until greens are tender.  You may add a potato, cut up, with the broth if you wish. Add one 15-ounce can of cannellini beans which have been drained and rinsed, and simmer until beans are heated through.   Make sure to season with salt and pepper and enjoy.