Planked Salmon

The Alaskan salmon season has begun and wild salmon are finally hitting our seafood cases! For those of you who don’t live for this springtime treat, these babies are the crème de la crème of salmon. Because some of these salmon swim 300 miles upstream to spawn (up the Copper River, in this case), these guys really chow down before the trip, packing on lots of fat in preparation. Since fat = flavor, pre-spawn salmon are very tasty – with a juicy, rich, almost nutty-tasting flesh that demands a pretty simple cooking technique.

I almost always go the traditional route and cook salmon on a wooden plank. Planking lets the smoke from the wood deepen the flavor while letting me use higher temperatures to seal and crisp the salmon.

For this monster fillet, I used two food-grade maple planks from Superior Planks. These planks are nice and thick and cut from sustainably harvested trees, so win-win.

I set up the Big Green Egg for a direct cook at medium-high heat (about 400°F). To prep the filet, I lightly oiled the skin side and seasoned both sides with a little ground sea salt. I topped the filet with some thinly sliced lemon, but I didn’t want to do much futzing that might hide the salmon’s flavor.

I would normally put the plank on the grill by itself for about 5 minutes, or until wisps of smoke start coming from the board, then flip the plank over and put the salmon on skin side down on the warmed side. But with having to use two planks. I just set everything up on a cookie sheet and slid the whole works onto the grill grate.

I closed the lid on the grill and let it cook for 10 minutes. I then checked it every 5 minutes until the flesh started to flake, but was still slightly translucent red inside. Remember that the fish will continue to cook a little once it’s off the heat, so you want it to be slightly underdone when you take it off. The total cooking time on this filet ended up being 20 minutes.

I let it rest 5 minutes and served it with a nutty quinoa salad (recipe coming soon).

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I LOVE salmon like this. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared simply. The lemon baked into the fish and left a nice fresh tang. The only thing I’d change is  slicing the lemon even thinner.

The Nutrition:
A 6-ounce cooked filet is 270 calories and 7 Weight Watchers points, but salmon is a superfood, loaded with healthy fats, so pair it with something green and you’re in business.

ONE YEAR AGO –  Cherry-Glazed Pork Chops

TWO YEARS AGO – No Fuss Ribs

 

Yoga – Getting My Om On

No food or fire today, just a plug for what is fast becoming my favorite form of exercise – yoga. While my dear wife and I have dabbled with yoga on and off over the years, we’ve both recently found our own “practices” at different studios with instructors that we really enjoy.

As a former gym rat, I hate to admit it, but I’ve seen more changes in my body after just a few months of regular yoga practice than I could get from the same amount of weight lifting. I am much stronger, particularly through my core, and have much more flexibility with fewer aches and pains.

A lot of people view yoga as a way making friends with your body. You ask it to do something, it tells you what it’s capable of, and you work out a compromise. No ego – just asking, trying, doing, asking, and trying again. Rinse and repeat – it is a remarkable way to relearn what your body is capable of and to calm and center your mind.

A big appeal of yoga is that it is accessible to anyone. There’s chair yoga, power yoga, hot yoga, meditative yoga, kids yoga, relaxing yoga, aerial yoga, water yoga, you name it… And within each of these, you can experience the postures at different levels. 20 people could take a basic hatha yoga class and get 20 different experiences. You could also do the same routine 20 times and get 20 different experiences yourself. It all depends on how focused you are and how deeply you can settle in.

My final plug – I have always ended a session of yoga feeling better than I did before I started it. I’ve never had that experience with any other activity.

Here are some yoga goodies that I’ve found valuable:

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness uses yoga as a way to calm the mind and ease pain.

YogaAccessories Extra Thick High Density Yoga Mat, the extra thickness takes a big load off of my joints and knees.

Gaiam Total Body Balance Ball we keep one of these at home to help stretch out sore joints and build balance.

Namaste.

Annoyed Shrimp

I have to confess, cooking has been such a pain lately that I was going to call this dish “Angry Shrimp.” But it’s not all that hot, and besides, I’m really feeling more stressed out and annoyed rather than out-right angry. It seems like I’ve suddenly lost my knife skills, am getting way better at spilling than stirring, my temperature control is iffy, and I can never find the ingredient I need when I need it. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

But since this blog is called “Food & Fire” not “Food & Therapy” let’s get on with the cooking…

This recipe started out as Weight Watchers Sesame Noodles with Chicken, but I switched to shrimp, bumped up the veggies and heat, and stir-fried the whole works.

6 ounces gluten-free spaghetti
1/2 cup uncooked scallion, green parts only, chopped
1 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups broccoli, chopped
1 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 gluten-free soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (get the real stuff made with plums if you can)
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon chili sauce with garlic
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper or Szechuan peppercorns
2 tsp sesame seeds

Arrive home with barely enough time to make dinner before heading out to yoga class. Change clothes and head to the kitchen to discover that your dear wife has the veggies chopped and the water boiling.

Thank dear wife.

Realize that the peeled and deveined shrimp aren’t. Prep shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and stash in the fridge.

Snap spaghetti in half, sending broken bits flying across stove top. Cook noodles according to package directions. Hunt for colander with one hand while trying to hold sauce pan full of boiling water in the other hand. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, chili sauce, honey, and corn starch. Find out that you don’t have enough rice vinegar. Call to dear wife to see if there is any more. No. Curse. Make do. Whisk to combine, making sure to break up and corn starch lumps that just don’t seem to want to break up.

Heat oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Dump in the still wet broccoli and bob and weave to avoid the splattering oil. Curse. Dig for the slotted wok spoon and stir to coat with oil. Sauté for about a minute. Add the carrots and sauté for another minute.

Add the soy sauce mixture to the pan. Bring to a simmer and add the shrimp. Simmer for another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the shrimp is pink and just cooked through.

Remove pan from heat and add the noodles, which have congealed into a stringy lump. Try to break pasta apart with tongs – no go. Look in three different places for pasta scoop. Break up noodles, add scallions and mix well to combine. Serve with more sesame seeds and some Sriracha hot sauce.

Pause, breathe, enjoy the meal, smile at dear wife, and then run off to class.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This is a very tasty dish that even shone through despite the rushed and disorganized cooking process. Love the sweet and tangy sauce that has just enough heat to make it interesting. For the next version I’m going to try grilling the meat and making the pasta and veggies as a side dish.

However, I was not at all happy with the whole prep and cooking process – too much stress and mess, not enough fun. It’s my hope that a combination of better menu planning, sharing some of the sous chef duties, taking some more yoga, and making a big effort on my part to get my cooking act together (the French call this mise en place, look for a post about this soon) will make it fun again.

The Nutrition:
Makes about 4, 1 1/2 cup servings at 10 Weight Watchers points per serving. I think you could easily add more veggies to this dish to make it even healthier.

ONE YEAR AGO –  Chicken Thighs & Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

TWO YEARS AGO – Pulled Pork – Hot & Fast Butts

 

Gluten-Free Biscuits & Gravy

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. I won’t be cooking since we’ll be out of town, but if I where this is what I would make for my dear wife.

2 cups Bisquick Gluten-Free mix
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
3 eggs

1 pound pork breakfast sausage
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons Bisquick Gluten-Free mix
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, combine Bisquick mix and butter. Cut in the butter into the mix using pastry blender or fork until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and eggs and mix just until a soft dough forms. Try not to over-work the dough.

Drop dough by large spoonfuls onto an cookie sheet. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown.

Brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Do not drain.  Add the Bisquick and cook over low heat for 5 minutes until it forms a roux and begins to brown.

Remove pan from heat and stir in the milk a little at a time. Scape the bottom to get up any brown bits. Return to medium-high heat and stir occasionally until gravy comes to a simmer and starts to thicken, about 10 minutes. Add the hot sauce, salt, and black pepper and stir to combine. Remove from heat and ladle over warm biscuits.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

While the Wife Was Away Wings

barbecued hot wings

I really have done my best to avoid tempting us with much non-diet-friendly food. But my dear wife was out of town for the weekend, so I had to make up a batch of hot wings.

1 1/2 pounds chicken wings (about 6 wings)
1 – 2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (General Purpose Rub v1.5, in this case)
1 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons raw sugar

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at 350°F. On the Big Green Egg I used an extender to move the grate up to the level of the rim, putting the chicken further away from the heat.

While the grill is heating up, season the wings with the barbecue rub. Make the hot sauce by combining the vinegar, butter, Worcestershire, peppers, salt, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until it has reduced a bit and thickened up. Remove sauce from heat, but keep warm.

hot sauce

When the grill is ready, put the wings on the grill and cook undisturbed for 30 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

barbecued hot wings

Pour about three-quarters of the sauce into a large bowl, reserve the remaining sauce. Move the wings from the grill to the bowl and toss to coat well. Move the wings back to the grill and cook for another 10 minutes. Move them back into the bowl again, toss them with the sauce, and then move to a plate to serve.

barbecued hot wings

Serve with bleu cheese dressing and the reserved sauce for dipping.

The Verdict: ★★★½☆
Again, I am really liking General Purpose Rub v1.5, but I was not a fan of the sauce. Between the heat of the rub and the heat of the sauce, it was just too much. Not head-explodingly hot, but it reminded me of one of my ex-inlaws – thin and bitter with not enough other redeeming qualities to make it worth the heat.

Also, despite the allure of batching it for the weekend, it’s never much fun to eat alone :(.

ONE YEAR AGO –  Alice Springs-ish Chicken

TWO YEARS AGO – Tiger Sauce Shrimp