Sassafras Smoked Salmon Salad with Shallot & Poppy Seed Dressing

Salmon Salad

Sassafras Smoked Salmon Salad – try saying that five times fast.

I was down in central Iowa and made a stop at Hawgeyes BBQ to pick up some supplies. They had sassafras smoking wood, which I’d never seen before. One sniff of that sweet, anise/root beer aroma and I knew I had to smoke some salmon with it.

The Salmon

2 salmon fillet, preferably wild-caught
2 tablespoons raw or brown sugar per pound of fish
2 tablespoons kosher salt per pound of fish
2 tablespoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning

Combine the salt, sugar, and Bay seasoning in a small bowl and mix well. This is the cure.

Lay the fillets flat in a zip-top bag. Cover both sides of the fillet with the cure mixture. Seal the bag and place in fridge for at least 12 hours, but no more than 24 hours. Turn the fillets over every 3-4 hours.

Remove the fish from cure, rinse well in cold water and pat dry. Place the fish skin-side down on a rack. Move to the fridge to dry until surface is dry but slightly sticky to the touch – 1 to 3 hours.

Set up your grill for a 3 hour indirect cook at 225°F. Add your smoking wood (sassafras, of course) and smoke until the fillet hits 160°F internal and starts to flake – about 2 hours.


Smoked salmon freezes nicely, so I smoked 2 fillets and Food-Savered off all but about 12-ounces for this salad.

The Dressing
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon brown or Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds

Put the shallot and salt in a blender and pulse to mince the shallot. Add the vinegar and let sit for at least 5 minutes to sweeten the shallot. Add the mustard, honey, and vinegar. Blend to combine. With the blender running, pour in 2 or 3 drops of oil, then continue pouring the oil in a thin stream until all of the oil is emulsified into the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the poppy seeds, bottle, and stash in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

I served this as a make-your-own salad with mixed greens and an assortment of toppings.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
In the summer, I make a batch of this dressing up at least once a week. It’s the crack of the salad dressing world – rich, sweet, and tangy, and it goes together quickly, tastes good on a wide variety of salads, and doesn’t separate in the fridge. What’s not to love?

The salmon came out sweet and salty with a subtle root beer taste that worked really well with the Chesapeake Bay seasoning. Can’t wait to make up a batch of dip with the rest of the fillets.

The Nutrition:
It’s salmon and veggies – go easy on the dressing and you’ll be fine.

One year ago – Luxury Stainless Cooking Grid
Two years ago – The Perfect Margarita

Standard Issue Creamy Coleslaw


This is an ever-so-slightly updated version of the creamy cabbage salad that you’ll find at almost any barbecue or picnic.

1 small head of green cabbage, shredded
1/2 small head red cabbage, shredded
2 medium carrots, grated
1 small onion, grated
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice or buttermilk
1-2 teaspoons Louisiana-style hot sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (I used Kraft’s Olive Oil Mayo)
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Grate cabbage, carrots, and onion into a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and stash in the fridge for at least an hour so the flavors get to know each other. Toss again, taste and adjust seasonings, then serve immediately.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This may well be my favorite coleslaw recipe. It’s creamy and flavorful without crossing over into being gloppy and heavy. It’ll stand up to barbecue or burgers, but won’t overwhelm them. Making it with lemon juice gives it a brighter taste, while using buttermilk makes it creamier.

The Nutrition:
Switching to light mayo and sour cream keeps the creaminess, but really cuts the fat. 1/2 cup is about 100 calories and only 1 Weight Watchers point.

One year ago – Sweet Chili Barbecued Pork
Two years ago – Spring!

Planked Salmon Nicoise

I had enough salmon left over from my last batch of Planked Salmon that I sealed some of it off in a FoodSaver bag and froze it for later. Then we hit a deal on fresh green beans, new potatoes, and real tomatoes at the farmer’s market and I knew it was time to make a salmon version of my Tuna Nicoise.

The Dressing
2 anchovies, or 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste, or 1 to 2 teaspoons of Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium shallot
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence

Make the dressing first by putting the garlic, shallots, and salt in a food processor and pulse until they are minced. Add the anchovies, pepper, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, and herb blend and pulse to combine. With the processor running, add the oil in a steady stream. The mixture will begin to thicken and form an emulsion, kind of like a thin mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The Salad
1 cooked salmon filet, about a pound
1 head Romain lettuce, chopped
1/2 pound new red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1/2 pound plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 cup halved and seeded black brine-cured olives
1/4 cup capers, drained
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Combine the potato slices, butter, and parsley in a microwave-safe container. Nuke for a couple of minutes until the butter melts. Stir to coat and then cook another 5-10 minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm in the microwave.

Blanch the green beans by bringing 2 quarts of salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add the green beans and let boil for at least 3 minutes. Check for doneness. Immediately drain the green beans in a colander and plunge them into ice cold water to bring the temperature down. Drain the beans.

This is a composed (versus tossed) salad, so lay all the goodies out on the table and let folks put together their own plates.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This was a great dish to beat the summer heat. No real cooking involved and everything came together in a flash. The farm-fresh veggies pair well with the tangy vinaigrette. I halved the oil in the dressing, so it was plenty tasty, but not nearly as rich, making it a nice match for the salmon as well.

The Nutrition:
Serves 4. Go easy on the dressing and this meal is only 480 calories and 7 Weight Watchers points per serving.

ONE YEAR AGO – Cucumber Margarita

TWO YEARS AGO – Meat on a Stick


Basted T-bones & Giardiniera

With the heat we’ve had lately, any excuse not to fire up the stove is a good one. I found these two t-bones lurking in the bottom of our freezer and decided to grill them both up so that we could have plenty of leftovers for steak salad.

My dear wife made a big batch of giardiniera (pickled veggie salad) well in advance so that it was nice and cool and all the flavors had drawn through. It can be ready to eat in 25 minutes, but making it a day ahead (and making enough to snack on through the week) is the way to go.

Giardiniera adapted from Eating Well
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-size florets
2 cups green beans
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon each crushed red pepper and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Add the veggies and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, then drain.

Transfer the vegetables to a medium bowl. Stir in oil, pepper, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each crushed red pepper and salt and the reserved cooking liquid. Refrigerate for at least 25 minutes to chill. Stir and serve with a slotted spoon.

Butter Basted Steaks
2 t-bone steaks
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Remove the steaks from the fridge and give them a good dusting with some ground sea salt and black pepper. Then set your grill up for a direct cook at slightly sub-nuclear temperature (about 600°F).

While the grill is getting up to temp, make the butter baste. Combine the butter, oil, thyme, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a shallow baking pan (I use a 9×13 disposable foil pan) and heat it up right on the grill, stirring to combine everything as the butter melts. Then set the pan beside the grill to keep it warm.

Sear the steaks for 60 seconds on each side, then move them off into the butter sauce. Flip them a couple of times to coat both sides with all that herby/buttery wonderfulness, then back on the grill for another 30 seconds on each side. Keep flipping every 30 seconds or so and start checking for doness – I like my steaks medium-rare, so 125°F internal. These steaks took just over 2 minutes per side total.

Move the steaks off into the butter sauce and give them another flip. Let rest for 10 minutes, then move the steaks to a cutting board. Reserve the butter mix and keep the pan warm.

Trim off any fat or connective tissue from the steaks and then slice the meat on a diagonal into 1/4-inch slices. Put the sliced steak and any accumulated meat juices from the cutting board back into butter mix. Give the pan a shake to coat the meat.

Serve with the giardiniera on the side, or over a mixed green salad.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The t-bones were mostly ribeye, so the meat was rich and tender. I got a nice char on them, and I love that contrast between the crisp, almost bitter outside and the smooth and meaty inside. The butter baste is the icing on the steak. You could live without it, but it does add lots of juiciness and more layers of flavor.

The giardiniera was a great accompanying dish with plenty of bite and a little heat. Feel free to double the recipe and use whatever veggies are fresh. This dish also makes a great appetizer, or bump up the olive oil and add some cheese and salami and you’ve got a light antipasto lunch.

The Nutrition:
If you trim it, t-bone steak is 5 points for 3 ounces of meat. The baste and the giardiniera adds about 3 more points for the oil. Go heavy on the veggies and it’s all good.

ONE YEAR AGO – Pulled Picnic

TWO YEARS AGO – Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops with Peanut Noodles


Grilled Garlic Shrimp with Spinach & Melon Salad

One of my favorite dishes to order along the Mexican Caribbean is Camarones Al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) – big, sweet, freshly-caught shrimp simply sautéed in butter and garlic. When my dear wife found a deal on large grill-cut shrimp (deveined and butterflied with the legs trimmed off), I knew I had to come up with a version of this for the grill.

Because I knew my rendition could end up on the decadent side, I paired it with a light salad that makes good use of the tasty melons that are in season now.

2 pounds large, grill-cut shrimp
8 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons raw or brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Chesapeake Bay Seasoning
4 cups ice

Combine the hot water, salt, sugar, lemon juice, garlic, and Bay seasoning in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the ice and stir to cool the brine. Add the shrimp, stir, and move the whole works to the fridge for an hour.

While the shrimp are brining, put the sauce and salad together.

Spinach & Melon Salad
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
2 cups melon, cubed or balled (honeydew in this case)
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk together the honey, vinegar, oil, and juices in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stash in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

To serve, toss the spinach, melon, and onion together in a large bowl. Toss with three-quarters of the dressing and serve with the remainder for drizzling.

Garlic Butter Sauce
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh herbs, minced (take your pick – thyme, chives, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary are all good here)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook until it stops foaming, about 2 minutes.

Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, herbs, and pepper. Cook another 2 minutes until you can really start to smell the garlic. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice.

Stash someplace warm while you heat up the grill and fish the shrimp out of the brine.

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain the shrimp into a colander. Make sure the garlic sauce is just barely warm enough to be liquid, but not hot enough to cook the shrimp. One by one, grab the shrimp by their tails and dip them in the sauce. Lay the dipped shrimp out on a cookie sheet just like you’re making chocolate-dipped strawberries.

If you are feeling extra naughty, toss the shrimp back in the fridge for 20 minutes and dip them again. If not, save what’s left of the garlic sauce for serving at the table and move the shrimp to the grill.

Place the shrimp on the grate, close the lid to avoid flare-ups from the butter, and grill for 2 minutes. Try to flip the shrimp – as they cook they curl and become more three-sided than 2-sided (I ended up using a spatula to scoop them up and move them around) – and cook for another 2 minutes. Flip/toss/move again and cook until just pink and curled – about another 2 minutes.

Remove from the grill and drizzle with remaining sauce before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
OMG these were good! We hit them so hard that there was quickly nothing left but shells and buttery grins. The brine plumped up the shrimp and made then extra sweet and tender, and the butter sauce added a ton of flavor while not covering anything up. Grilling them in their shells helped not only hold more fo the sauce, but kept the shrimp moist.

The salad was a great match for the shrimp – light and sweet with similar citrus flavors.

The Nutrition:
Not even going there with this dish.

ONE YEAR AGO – Not so Black, Plenty of Bleu, Redux

TWO YEARS AGO – Happy Holiday! – No Crust Coconut Pie


Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Our local farmer’s markets are just loaded with beets right now. To take advantage of them I’ve been making this roasted beet salad at least once a week.

2-3 bunches of beets
Baby lettuce or mixed greens
Goat cheese
Olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
Shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Roasting the Beets
Roasting is not only dead-simple, but it also gives them a deep, rich, sweet flavor.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Trim all but about an inch or so of greens off of beets and rinse/scrub to clean any dirt off of them. Lightly oil a shallow baking pan. Arrange the beets in the pan, drizzle with a little olive oil (use a  oil sprayer better coverage, for fewer calories) and sprinkle with salt. Give the pan a shake to coat the beets.

Cover the pan with a layer of aluminum foil and seal tightly. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Check beets and give pan another shake. Roast until beets and tender and pierce easily with a fork (about another 20-30 minutes).

When done, remove pan from oven, uncover, and let cool for 30 minutes.

Peel the beets under cool running water, using your hands to slip the skin off. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to trim off any remaining stems or bad spots.

I was able to score both red and yellow beets (which have a slightly sweeter, more buttery taste). When cleaning them, try to keep the two separate and be careful with the red beets as they will stain everything.

Slice the beets and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

Shallot Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium shallot, quartered

Put the salt and shallot in a food processor and give it a whirl until the shallot is minced. Add the vinegar and let stand for 15 minutes – this is very important as this macerates the shallots and makes the sweet instead of sharp.

After the shallots and vinegar have rested, add the mustard and pulse to combine. With the processor running, pour in 2 or 3 drops of the oil, then continue pouring the oil in a thin stream until all the oil is emulsified into the vinaigrette. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if needed.

Composing the Salad
Because the beet juices will make everything a unappealing purple if mixed,  this is a some-assembly-required salad. Arrange a layer of greens on a plate (fresh baby lettuce from our bowl on the deck, in this case). Top with sliced beets and crumbles of goat cheese. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The sweetness of the beets plays nicely with the sharpness of the greens and cheese, and the vinaigrette does great job of blending the two.

This is a really versatile salad. It works as a first course, but also stands up well to almost any meat you want to pair with it. I’ve served it alongside scallops and steak and it held it’s own with both. Add some slivered almonds or cashew halves to this and I could see it as a light lunch too.

The Nutrition:
With a tablespoon of vinaigrette, this salad is only 4 Weight Watcher’s points and 150 calories.

ONE YEAR AGO – Kindle Here I Come!

TWO YEARS AGO – Cherry-Glazed Chicken


Tri-tip Steak Salad

This meal was the perfect storm – I had just finished reading Ruhlman’s Twenty, my new High-Que stainless grill grate had just arrived, and my dear wife wanted a salad for dinner.

Stand back, I’ve got this covered…

The Meat
1 tri-tip roast
3-4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the salt, garlic, and pepper in a small bowl and rub it into all sides of the roast. Go heavy, you want a nice, salty crust on the roast.

Let the roast sit at room temperature while you set up the grill for a direct cook over high (700°F+) temperature. Once the grill is ready, insert your cooking grate and let it sit for 15 minutes to make sure it is nice and hot.

Put the roast on the grate and sear for a minute on each side (tri-tips are typically thick enough that there are 3 sides), then cut the heat to 550°F by closing the draft vents and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes on each side until it reaches 130°F internal.

Remove from the grill, let rest for 10 minutes before slicing across the grain into thin slices.

Lemon-Pepper Vinaigrette, Caesar variation adapted from Ruhlman’s Twenty
6 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large egg yolks
4 large garlic clove, smashed with the flat side of a knife
2 anchovies, or 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste, or 1 to 2 teaspoons of Thai fish sauce
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds romaine lettuce, chopped
1 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, in vinaigrette
Assorted herb snippings (whatever your wife brings you – fennel and chives, in this case)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

While the roast is resting, make the vinaigrette and assemble the salad.

Put the garlic and salt in a blender and pulse to mince the garlic. Add the lemon juice, egg yolks, tarragon, 1 tablespoon of the cheese, and anchovies. Blend to combine. With the blender running, pour in 2 or 3 drops of the oil, then continue pouring the oil in a thin stream until all the oil is emulsified into the vinaigrette. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if needed.

Toss the lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs together in a bowl.

Assemble the plate with a layer of salad, a drizzle of vinaigrette, some Parmigiano-Reggiano, and top with slices of tri-tip.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Grilled meat and a fresh salad – I can see some version of this showing up on our dinner table a lot this summer. The tri-tip was very tasty with a charred, salty crust and a juicy medium-rare interior. Ruhlman’s dressing recipe makes a very light, lemony caesar that paired perfectly with the rich, meaty tri-tip.

The Nutrition:
6-ounces of tri-tip is 9 Weight Watchers points and 390 calories. The salad is free, so go light on the vinaigrette and it’s a decent meal.

ONE YEAR AGO – The Perfect Margarita

TWO YEARS AGO – Spicy Mango Shrimp


Spinach & Tomato Quinoa Salad

A big challenge of going gluten-free has been finding products that are naturally gluten-free. There are now (thankfully) lots of products that have been made gluten-free, but that involves some processing. Quinoa is a South America seed that is a naturally gluten-free alternative to couscous or bulgur wheat. It’s light and nutty and has a little crunch to it. It works really well in this salad from Fitness & Feta that my dear wife whipped up to go with our planked salmon.

Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cooked quinoa
4-5 big handfuls of baby spinach
2 handfuls of grape tomatoes
4-5 scallion, washed & sliced
Spices to taste:  sea salt, ground pepper, parsley, thyme, basil, or mint
Tiny pinch of nutmeg
Fresh lemon juice or rice vinegar

Gently heat extra virgin olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the cooked quinoa,  stir, and cook until it is heated through.

Add the baby spinach leaves, tomatoes, and scallions. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, then sprinkle with nutmeg and other herbs. Stir to mix, then sprinkle with lemon juice or rice vinegar and stir.

When the spinach begins to wilt remove from heat and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This was a very nutty and satisfying side dish that paired well with the salmon. While there’s just a pinch of nutmeg in it, it really stands out and adds a lot to the flavor. This dish is also a great chance to use your fresh herbs. I think we’ll be eating a lot of quinoa salads this summer.

The Nutrition:
A 1/4 cup serving of quinoa is only 1 Weight Watchers point and 172 calories. Plus it’s high in protein and loaded with magnesium.

ONE YEAR AGO –  1st Sweet Corn

TWO YEARS AGO – Memorial Day


Chicken & Avocado Salad

When everything is so cold and dark, sometimes you crave something fresh and green. When I saw the recipe for Chicken Salad with Avocado Dressing over at Noble Pig, I knew I had to try it out as a cure for my winter blahs.

The original version is for chicken salad sandwiches, but I thought it’d make a great dinner salad.

1 pound left-over chicken breast meat, sliced into strips
1 avocado
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ranch dressing mix (Penzeys Buttermilk Ranch in this case)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 scallion (white and green parts)
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
2 heads romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender, combine the avacado, mayo, dressing mix, buttermilk, scallion, parsely, garlic, mint, cilantro, and lemon juice and pulse to combine. Add 1/4 cup of the water and pulse again, adding more water if needed until the mixture is smooth and pourable. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Arrange lettuce on a plate. Top with peppers, chicken, avocado dressing, and some grated Parmesan.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆ This was so good that I plan on always making extra chicken so we have it around for this dish. The dressing had a tangy, buttery, fresh taste that went great with the smoky chicken and peppers.

Next time I would do this as a chop salad – finely chop together the lettuce, peppers, chicken, and maybe add some bacon and cucumber too. Then toss it with just a bit of the dressing and serve with more dressing on the side. I’d probably also switch out lime juice for the lemon to give it just a bit more zip bang.

The Nutrition: Makes 4, 275-calorie servings. The veggies are free so it’s only 7 Weight Watcher’s points if you leave off the cheese.


TWO YEARS AGO – Making More Bacon


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