Sockeye Salmon with Whole Wheat Pasta

I feel like I’ve been terribly negligent in keeping you all updated on my Whole Foods Pantry Challenge.  Because I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see just what I’ve been cooking with all of those pantry staples – right?  Like you have nothing better to do than sit around wondering about my meal-planning abilities.

Mostly you’re probably just wondering when I’m going to get around to choosing a winner for that awesome $50 Whole Foods gift card.  Don’t ask me why I decided to make that contest go the whole month of January.  In retrospect that seems like an awfully long time.  However, the good news is you still have a week left to enter, so get on it if you haven’t already.  Just follow the link above, or tweet: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  If you’ve already done both of those things, then yay! you’re entered (don’t do it again, though, because you can only enter twice – once in the comments and once on twitter).

Today, I’m talking about salmon.  Which I always want to pronounce saL-man (as in Salman Rushdie).  It’s annoying.  However, it tastes good, and it’s good for you, so I eat it despite the fact that I practically embarrass myself every time I have to ask for it at the fish counter.

I don’t buy salmon (rushdie) often, because I like to buy wild-caught, preferably Alaskan (because their fisheries are reputed to be some of the most sustainable) and that can be expensive.  Luckily, every so often Whole Foods will run a sale, and you can get whole salmon filets for $7.99 a pound (normally it costs $14.99 a pound).  When that happens, like it did this past Friday, I like to stock up.

Today was one of those days where I just didn’t want to do much of anything.  Last night I helped a friend out by catering a dinner for 50 people at her church, so I was tired.  Exhausted really.  And the last thing I wanted to do was spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  It was a lazy, rainy Sunday, is what it was.

At almost 5:00 this afternoon, I remembered that I was supposed to do the Week 4, Day 3 workout in my Couch to 5K program (I bet you thought I’d given up on that, since I haven’t really talked about it in the last three weeks.  But I didn’t – I’ve been very good.  In fact, today I did something I never thought I’d be able to do – I ran for 20 minutes straight without stopping.  I realize that for some people that is a small feat, but for me (who could barely run for one minute when all of this started), it’s huge).  Despite the fact that the last thing I wanted to do was get on the treadmill and run, I made myself put on my workout clothes, lace up my running shoes, and do it.

The point of all that (aside from giving myself a huge pat on the back) is to say that I usually try to have dinner on the table by 6:00.  If I didn’t start my workout until almost 5:00, that means I didn’t get finished with the workout until almost 5:30, and that means I had fewer than 30 minutes to get dinner ready.  Luckily, fish is fast.

Seared Sockeye Salmon over Whole Wheat Pasta in a Saffron Cream Sauce

adapted from this recipe from Cooking in Sens

prep time: 5 minutes

cook time: 20 minutes

serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds wild-caught sockeye salmon, cut into 4-oz. portions
  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta (I used the spaghetti I bought at the beginning of the month, for the pantry challenge)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup dry white whine
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in boiling water (also from the pantry challenge)
  • parsley for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put a large pot of well salted water on to boil. Cook pasta.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the diced onion and cook until traslucent.
  4. Add the wine and saffron, stir in the mustard and mascarpone.  Cook to thicken a bit.
  5. Add the sundried tomatoes.  Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as needed.
  6. When the pasta is al dente, add it to the the cream sauce and stir to combine.
  7. Heat a large iron skillet over high heat.  Add the olive oil
  8. Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper.  Place them in the skillet, skin side down.  Cook for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.
  9. Serve  salmon over the pasta, garnish with some chopped parsley.

This was a hit with the entire family.  The youngest asked for seconds, and the oldest barely complained (which in my book is a huge accomplishment).  My husband, who isn’t a huge fan of salmon (he prefers the milder, whiter fishes), even liked it.  The sauce was light and mildly floral from the saffron.  The pasta had a nice bite to it, and the salmon was delicious – crispy skin, nice sear, tender and flaky on the inside (please don’t chastise me for the layer of albumin sneaking out in that picture above.  I realize it’s not cooked to Top Chef perfection, but it was good enough for us).  If you’re looking for a quick, flavorful and relatively healthy meal, this is a a good one.

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

And so my first week of work has begun.  I’ve jumped in with both feet, welcoming the adult interaction and the intellectual stimulation.  I’ve already got projects to work on and I’m being challenged beyond what I thought I’d be.  It’s nice.

At home, we’re busy decorating and planning.  The tree has been lit and decorated and the lights have been strung about the outside of the house.  The children are all atwitter with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, and the ornaments dangling from the fragile branches of the tree are almost too much for the youngest to resist.  He’s just so curious and excited all of the time, eager to touch and explore everything.

We’re talking about the meaning of Christmas. We have a small wooden nativity that the children are allowed to touch and manipulate.  We talk about the different members in the scene, and my oldest takes care to gather all of them around the tiny baby in the manger.  He wants them all arranged just so – in a tight circle, gazing down at the swaddled infant.  He’s very particular, and gets quite agitated when his brother decides that the various figures need to be scattered about the house.  I spend  a good amount of time fishing them out from under the sofa and from between the cushions.  At least they’re interacting with them and curious about them – right?  It gives us ample opportunities to share the Christmas story.

Amidst the joy and the lights, and the work obligations, I’ve been a little bit remiss in my cooking duties.  Luckily, my work schedule is only part-time, so I do still have some time available during the week to focus on food.

As I sat home on Tuesday, thinking about dinner and dreading the inevitable battle of wills that has become the standard with my two-year-old at the dinner table, I decided soup would be my best bet.  It has been unseasonably warm over the last few days, but the dreary, rainy  weather welcomed the idea of warm, nourishing soup.  I’d been to lunch with a friend over the weekend (she’s hilarious, and she writes about food – of course we’re friends) and we’d both ordered soup and salad.  I chose a wild mushroom number and she went with an onion soup.  Both soups were cream based  (much to my friend’s surprise), and they were both hearty and flavorful.  I really wanted to replicate that same rich creamy texture and deep flavor at home.

This isn’t really a recipe per-se.  It’s more of a bunch of stuff I had in the fridge that I threw together on a whim.  Sometimes, those are the best meals, though – for some reason the stars align and the seas part and you’re left with a perfectly satisfying meal that took very little effort and actually helped you clean out the fridge a little bit.  This is one of those meals.  I imagine you could use just about any vegetable here – just roast the heck out of it, and then whir it up with some broth and half-and-half.  I’m trying to think of a vegetable that wouldn’t work here, and I’m drawing a blank.

In this case, I had a pound of mushrooms in the crisper, along with about two cups of broccoli florets and a bunch of asparagus that our neighbors gave us before they left for a cruise (lucky ducks!).  I decided to roast them all at 400F until they got good and brown and toasty.  I just tossed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper and spread them out on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.  They roasted for about 35 minutes.

While that was going on, I caramelized a thinly sliced onion in some butter in an enameled stock pot on the stove.  Once they were nice and golden brown and sweet and buttery-delicious, I added about 1 1/2 quarts of turkey stock (because I had some left over from Thanksgiving.  You could also use vegetable broth or chicken stock).  To this I added the roasted veggies, and I pureed it all using my stick blender.  I topped it all off with about a cup of half-and-half, and added half a cup of parmesan cheese.  Then I tasted it for seasoning and added salt and pepper.

I loved this soup.  And what’s better, my kids actually liked it.  No complaining, no moaning and groaning about how many more bites they had to take before they could be done.  Just quietly eating and cleaning their plates.  Broccoli and asparagus soup.  Who’d have thought?  It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but it sure did taste good.  And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

While it’s not really a recipe, here’s my estimation of the amounts I used and how long it took:

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 quarts stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

I think this one might become part of our regular repertoire.  What are some of your favorite autumn and winter soups?