Monday, January 24, 2011

However You Pronounce It

Sometime over the course of the last year or so I decided to stop making excuses for not doing the things I wanted to and just DO THEM. I talked about starting a blog for years before actually doing it. And before I even knew what blogging was I had a plan for putting down into some kind of tangible format my culinary journey, if only so my kids could have something to look at. I was going to start by taming that stack of food mags, doggedly wend my way through all of the recipes I wanted to try, and put into a perfect, logical order all of the ones I deemed worthy of keeping.

But there were so MANY.

And who has the TIME???

Then last year I forced myself to make the leap and at least START. Baby steps, Grasshopper. And while I can’t really say that the stack of magazines and recipes has gotten any smaller, blogging has at least has forced me to stay on task somewhat. It’s also made me (slightly) less likely to eat a bag of popcorn for dinner when I think I’m not in the mood to cook.

I’ve also gotten serious about exercising regularly. Not because I wanted to be a ‘hot mom’ or anything but because I like food enough that I want to be able to continue to enjoy it on my terms. I don’t want my menu dictated to me by a doctor.

And finally, I decided to set aside the notion that I needed to have a bigger living space if I wanted to cook and entertain for friends. ‘Bollocks’, as my friends in Newcastle would say. Not only has there been enough space, but ‘eating in’ has given me the opportunity to really enjoy the company of friends, instead of feeling like we’re on some kind of time allotted outing that ends as soon as the waiter brings the check to usher us out the door.

But I’m rambling.

Saturday evening was one of those hang out and enjoy the company of friends kind of nights. No schedules. No rush. No wondering how much to tip the waiter.

And as a glaring deviation from my usual m.o., I actually cooked something REALLY HEALTHY. There was no butter to be found in this meal. Well, ok, I didn’t ADD any butter to this meal. Obviously, the little puff pastry ‘lids’ were chock full of the stuff, but considering that the original rendition of this was wrapped in the pastry and served with a cream sauce, I thought I did pretty well.

Pomegranate and Balsamic Glazed Salmon with Sautéed Leeks
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, separated
1 tsp dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white wine
6 Tbs pomegranate juice
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 tsp cornstarch
A pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
2 lbs salmon fillets, cut into portion sized pieces

Heat oven to 300º.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil.  Add the leeks and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften.  Add tarragon and season with salt and pepper.  Deglaze pan with wine and continue to cook until wine evaporates.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch and cayenne.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to reduce until the mixture is of glaze consistency.

In the meantime, heat another 2 Tbs oil in the sauté pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper and add to the pan.  Sear briefly on each side, about 2 minutes each (for about a 2 - 3" thick slice of salmon).

Place salmon in an oven proof dish (or leave it in the pan you cooked it in if it can go into the oven).  Brush salmon with glaze and transfer to oven.  Cook just until the salmon is translucent and registers 125º internally, about 7 - 10 minutes.

** Serving idea:  I adapted this as a low-fat, sugar-free recipe for a friend by substituting Splenda brown sugar blend in the glaze, and rather than wrapping the salmon in puff pastry (as originally called for), I just cut puff pastry into wedges and baked them in the oven, using the wedges as little 'caps'.

In keeping with the 'healthy' theme, I decided to try something I've been reading about but haven't gotten around to trying....  Quinoa.  In reading up on the stuff, I swear it used to grow wild where I lived growing up (in the South) and was just another weed.  Kind of tickles me that it's the 'in' thing now.

Apparently, the proper pronunciation of quinoa is "KEEN-WAH".  OBVIOUSLY.  Of course the joke the entire night was in trying to get it right and not revert to the more logical "QUIN-O-AH".  Offspring gave up and started referring to it as 'couscous rice'.  Don't blame me.  I'm just her mother.

Anyway, I will have to say that I thought the stuff was pretty tasty.  I used a tri-color mix, just to make it pretty.

If you have been wanting to try it but haven't quite convinced yourself to do so, go ahead and give it a shot.  It's got a nutty flavor and sure beats the heck out of bran in the flavor department (haven't we all tried a 'healthy' muffin with the consistency of sawdust?).  And it's very versatile in what you can add to it.


Quinoa with Butternut Squash, Pears and Sage

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (in all honesty, I used a Delicata)
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter (I substituted olive oil in this particular instance)
6 small sage leaves
1 pear, peeled and diced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 Meyer lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400º.   Place cubed squash on a small roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Bake just until squash is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse your quinoa, drain well, and add to a medium saucepan.  Add water and about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 - 12 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow to sit another 5 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.

In a sauté pan heat 1 Tbs oil and add hazelnuts.  Allow to toast just a minute or two, then remove the nuts.  Add pear cubes and sauté until pear is just softened, about 2 minutes.  Add roasted squash to the pan, season with salt and pepper, then add the mustard and lemon juice.  Thoroughly combine and then add to the quinoa pan, along with the nuts.

In the same sauté pan, heat the butter until it sizzles.  Add sage leaves and fry just until they crisp up and are starting to brown at the edges.  Drain on a paper towel.  Crumble 3 - 4 of the leaves and add to quinoa mixture.  Stir to combine.  Use the remaining leaves for garnish.

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