So, I think I left my brain behind somewhere on the other side of last Friday or Saturday (have you seen it anywhere? It’s about this big. Kind of grey and wrinkly…). I am so scattered! And I can’t remember anything for more than two minutes. I suppose this is what they refer to as pregnancy brain. But I think it’s also been helped along by having guests to entertain for a week and a half in nasty weather plus spending large chunks of each day cranking out statistics and charts for my next dissertation paper.
The combination of factors has rendered me pretty ridiculous. But, I will do my best not to forget what I am talking about midway through a sentence. And as I say that, I am scrambling to try to remember what I was going to write about…goals. I think it was goals. In particular, cooking goals.
Do you guys make cooking goals for yourself? Normally I don’t really set any that could be termed as such. I make semi-conscious decisions like, “I should try making steamed pork buns sometime” or “I should really try to cook more with celeriac…” But those aren’t real goals. This winter, however, Joel and I were out for an extremely snowy walk with the dog, and he asked me what cooking goals I had for myself, and lo and behold, upon a brief moment of reflection I discovered that I did have some goals that I wanted to set.
Two goals, in fact, that are seemingly contradictory but I think are related as well. First, I decided I want to get better at actual speedy weeknight cooking, particularly cooking that is more family oriented because, well, I figure that will be extraordinarily useful one of these days. It’s something I’m relatively good at already, but on a scale of ‘abysmal’ to ‘superstar,’ I’d give myself only a ‘proficient’ because I would like to be better at making these speedy, easy meals a little more rounded out and to involve fewer pans. A lot fewer pans. I often use half of our dishes just to make a quick meal. Plus, as I’ve mentioned, I want to be better at sharing the speediest weeknightiest meals with you in this space.
My other goal is to take more time to choose and make more intricate recipes. You know, “chef-y” recipes. Ones that involve “technique.” I can be a major corner cutter – we all need to be sometimes. But, I’ve also been gaining increasing respect for the results of truly taking the time, adding the extra steps, and doing it the best way possible, both when it comes to cooking and to life, actually.
It may seem like a pain in the hind-quarters to spend 30 minutes browning meatballs in three batches before adding them to your sauce, or to sear your leeks and then oven-poach them and then broil them before adding them to the rest of a dish. Actually, it doesn’t just seem like a pain, it is a pain. And you don’t need to use such fussy technique to get a perfectly wonderful meal on the table. Most cooking shouldn’t be intimidating as much as it should be inviting and intuitive. However, when you have time, and you are letting loose and just enjoying the process of creating something in the kitchen, giving in to craftsmanship, then it’s totally worth it. When you can do that, the extra steps aren’t a pain, they’re an adventure.
I think we need both things, the everyday workhorses and the fanciful flourishes. And I think both show respect for what it means to cook and eat food.
Anyway, this is a rambling way of arriving at the point that I went on a bit of a cooking rampage a couple weeks ago and made a whole bunch of rather time consuming recipes in a row. It was a delicious week. I made fennel stewed with saffron alongside a brined and roasted chicken, April Bloomfield’s green pea soup, these focaccia with leeks and pancetta (talk about tons of steps – but they were amazing!), and a bunch of things from the lovely cookbook Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
This salad with salmon is one of them, and I’m sharing it because we loved it and it is actually quite minimally fussy for the amount of flavor and visual impact it has. I mean look at it! It’s a show stopper. And on the whole much of the time and effort goes into roasting the beets and potatoes separately to perfection and then outfitting them with the appropriate dressing, and that’s not so hard to do now is it?
The salmon gets coated with a brilliant green blend of soft garden herbs that just scream “spring!” Dill, I’ve always considered an ideal pairing for salmon and have been eating salmon with dill ever since I’ve been eating solid foods. Now here tarragon, and parsley also lend their independent fragrances, herby, licoricey, grassy, while shallots bring sharpness and pungency. You layer this fresh young turf over salmon’s surf, and then the salmon gets slow roasted above a pan of water to keep it perfectly tender.
The salad is a composed salad, in the style of a salade Nicoise, but completely unique. The sticky sweetness of the beets plays well with the meaty salmon and both are offset by the bite of bitter greens and the tang of a lemon-mustard dressing. The potatoes, earthy and undemanding, make a sturdy backbone for everything else that is going on.
The recipe also calls for hardboiled eggs, bringing the salad back in the direction of the inspiration of Nicoise. I chose to omit them because I felt like the salad would already be hardy enough for dinner with its mix of greens, roots, and fish, but I’m sure having the slices of eggs nestled amongst the wedges of beet and potato would have been wonderful. Maybe next time I’ll add the eggs, but for now I think I’m going to spend some time concentrating on those speedy weeknight meals.
- For the dressing:
- 1 Tbs. mustard (Dijon or grainy)
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1½ Tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbs. yogurt or creme fraiche
- ¾ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- For the rest of the salad:
- 1 lb. of potatoes, preferably little tiny ones, but larger ones will work if that's what you can get
- 1 lb. whole beets in any color, again preferably a handful of smaller ones as opposed to just a couple large ones
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 2 Tbs. fresh dill, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- ¼ cup shallot, very finely chopped
- one lemon
- 2 lbs. salmon fillet (preferably wild caught)
- Plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper
- several handfuls of bitter greens like dandelion greens or chickory (chopped or torn into bite size pieces if they are large leaves)
- 3 eggs, hardboiled (optional)
- First roast the beets and the potatoes (this can be done in advance to save time on prep later). Heat your oven to 400F. Scrub the beets well and remove their leaves if they have them, place them whole in a little roasting pan and add about an inch of water to the pan. Cover the pan tightly with foil and place it in the oven. Next, toss the potatoes with about 1 Tbs. olive oil, the thyme sprigs, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place them in another roasting pan, cover this one with aluminum foil too, and put it into the oven. Roast the beets and potatoes until they are tender enough to be easily pierced to the center with a knife. The amount of time depends on the size of the vegetables but the potatoes can take anywhere from 30 minutes for little ones to an hour for bigger ones, and beets tend to take 45 min. to an hour.
- Remove each - the beets and the potatoes - from the oven once they are tender and allow to cool completely. Use your fingers to rub the skins off of the beets, then cut them into ½ inch thick wedges and toss them in a medium bowl with the juice of half the lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.
- Make the vinaigrette by whisking the dressing ingredients together (taste and adjust the seasonings to taste). Halve the potatoes (if small) or cut into ½ inch chunks and toss in a separate bowl with 2 Tbs. of the dressing and about ½ tsp. salt. Set the remaining vinaigrette aside.
- To prepare the salmon, reduce the oven temperature to 325F and place a shallow baking pan full of water on the lowest rack. Mix the parlsey, dill, tarragon, and chopped shallot with 1 tsp. lemon zest from the lemon and 2 Tbs. of olive oil. Season the salmon well with salt and pepper and rub the herb mix all over it. Put the salmon on a baking sheet and place in the oven on a rack above the pan of water. Back until the salmon will just flake in the center. Mine took about 30 minutes (time depends on the thickness of the fillet).
- Remove the salmon from the oven and break it into 2 inch chunks. Scatter the greens onto a large platter and drizzle with ¼ cup of the mustard dressing. Arrange the beets and potatoes around the greens, then add the salmon chunks. Drizzle with as much of the remaining dressing as you wish. Slice the boiled eggs into wedges, if using, and nestle them in amongst the rest of the ingredients. Season with a pinch of salt and another squeeze of lemon juice and serve.