March 29, 2019

Chipotle Salmon with Mango Avocado Salsa

It's basically summer, with all the above-freezing days and sunlight past dinnertime. It's enough to get me in the mood for light, fresh dishes, but only if they're quick and easy to make since I don't want to be trapped in my hot claustrophobic kitchen longer than I have to. This salmon is ready in under 30 minutes, and all you have to do for the salsa is chop up some produce and let it sit for a while. Honestly, the hardest part is finding ripe mangos and avocados.

The tricks to a perfect salsa are good knife skills and time. You want the mangos and avocados to be the same size dice so you don't end up with any big chunks or small mushy pieces. This makes for a prettier appearance and better eating experience. There's also some red onion and jalapeno, which should be minced finely so you don't bite into any giant pieces. If you made them the same sizes as the mango and avocado, your friends and family would never want you to make this recipe again.

The chopped veggies (and fruit) get tossed in a light dressing. This infuses it with more flavor, and the acid keeps the avocado from browning immediately after you cut it. All you need are some lime juice, honey, olive oil, and some spices. They match the flavors in the salmon glaze to bring the whole dish together. I like to let it sit for about 2 hours, which is enough time for the flavors to meld together but not too long that everything turns brown and mushy.

The flavor in the salmon comes from a tasty glaze I make with the liquid from a can of chipotles in adobo, honey, lime juice, and spices. Pretty similar to the salsa dressing, right? The chipotles are responsible for most of the flavor, and they add a smoky heat that counters the sweetness and the acid from the honey and lime juice. That honey also makes the glaze caramelize beautifully, but keep an eye on it since it will go from brown and caramelized to black and burnt pretty quickly if you don't baby it. Luckily, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook so the hands-on time required for this dish is pretty short.

The salmon is best cooked in a skillet so you get all that surface area caramelized, but you can also use a grill, grill pan, or a nice hot oven (though it's not nearly as good). The cooking time depends on the size and thickness of your filets, so if you have a thicker piece you may want to sear it off and finish it in the oven so the glaze doesn't burn. A thermometer is going to be your friend here because cutting your fish open every few minutes to check on it is going to dry it out. Once it's cooked through to your liking, top it with a big scoop of that refreshing salsa and dig in! This recipe is going to be on my meal plan for the next few months, and if you don't mind your salmon cold or room temperature it makes a great lunch, too.

For the Salsa:
2 Mangoes, Diced
2 Avocados, Diced
1/4 Cup Minced Red Onion
1/2-1 Jalapeno, Minced
1 T Lime Juice
1 T Honey
1 T Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/4 tsp Chili Powder

For the Salmon:
2-4 T Chipotles in Adobo
1/4 Cup Honey
2 T Lime Juice
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 lbs Salmon Fillets

For the salsa, combine the mangoes, avocados, onion, and jalapeƱo. Whisk the lime juice, honey, olive oil, cayenne, and chili powder together. Add to the mango mixture and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 2 hours.

For the salmon, combine the chipotles, honey, lime juice, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season generously with salt and pepper. Brush the sauce onto the salmon.

Heat a skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Sear the salmon flesh-side down until caramelized, about 4-6 minutes. Flip and finish cooking skin-side down, about 4-6 minutes more. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4-6

March 18, 2019

Asparagus & Fontina Quiche

Birds are chirping, it's light out when I get home from work, and my face doesn't hurt when I walk outside. It must be spring! I'm ready for all the farmers markets and fresh eating and doing it all without bundling up in 12 layers. Asparagus is one of the greatest finds at the early spring markets and the best way to upgrade it is with plenty of cheese. It's like when your parents would smother your veggies with cheese to trick you into eating them except it's fancy melty fontina cheese and you're eating the asparagus on purpose. It's even better in a buttery, flaky pie crust as a quiche you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oh, and some crispy pancetta doesn't hurt either.

As always, the pork comes first. Here, it's pancetta instead of bacon just to elevate the dish a bit, but bacon would work just as well. You just have to cook it off until it's crispy. I use the pork fat to cook off a bit of garlic, too. The asparagus is a little more tricky; you need to blanch it and shave it so you get those gorgeous ribbons running through the quiche. Blanching sounds more challenging than it really is but it's definitely worth the effort. You just boil the asparagus for a minute or two in salted water then transfer it to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After that, snap off the tough ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin. I've tried slicing it with a knife but it's way easier to get thin, even strips with a peeler.

The quiche base consists of a few eggs and some half and half. Compared to most quiche recipes loaded with cream, this one really isn't that bad for you. Well, until you stir in all the pancetta and cheese. You can stir in the asparagus here and it will mostly float to the top or you can toss in as much as you want once it's transferred to the pie crust. The crust can be a classic homemade butter crust, you can throw some cheese into the crust for some extra flavor, or you can make things faster by just using a store-bought one, even though it won't be nearly as good.

The great thing about quiche is that you can eat it whenever you want. It's eggs, so it works for breakfast, or you can serve it with a salad to bulk it up for lunch or dinner. You can also grab a slice cold from the fridge if you need a midnight snack. If asparagus isn't your thing (or this just gets you in a quiche-y mood), you can also try out some with mushrooms and caramelized onions or a classic quiche Lorraine.

1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust (See Below)
4 oz Pancetta, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 oz Asparagus
5 Eggs
1 Cup Half & Half
3/4 Cup Shredded Fontina

Press the pie dough into a greased 9" pie plate and chill until firm.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy. Add 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds then transfer to an ice bath. When cool, trim the ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin.

Heat oven to 400F.

Whisk the eggs and half and half together. Add the fontina, pancetta, and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the crust and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and set, covering the crust as necessary to prevent over-browning.

Pie Crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add 1 stick of chilled and cubed butter (and 1/2 cup shredded hard cheese, if desired) and pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.
Pie Crust Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

March 4, 2019

Bananas Foster Banana Bread

Chicago in March is all about St. Patrick's Day, but Mardi Gras is worthy of some attention too. It's another excuse for lots of parties and good food, so I don't understand why it's not more of a big deal. I'm determined to make it into a big deal by luring people in with delicious recipes like this one, which does double duty as an indulgent breakfast or a healthy-ish dessert (it has fruit in it, ok?). Banana bread is already a fan favorite, but I upgraded it by combining it with another popular banana treat: bananas foster. I added a splash of rum and a pinch of cinnamon to the batter, whipped up a luscious rum caramel sauce, and swapped in pecans for walnuts for some added southern flair.

This banana bread starts by mashing bananas up until mostly smooth. You want to use very ripe bananas with plenty of brown spots so they're sweet and soft. If they're ripe enough, you should be able to mash them with just a fork, or you can use a mixer with a paddle attachment on low speed to get things started. I then add brown sugar (for some extra caramel flavor), eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum. Bananas already keep things pretty moist, but this loaf bakes for about an hour so a little extra help from the sour cream doesn't hurt. I don't usually add rum to my banana bread but it is bananas foster banana bread so it's totally acceptable here.

The dry ingredients include flour, baking soda, salt, and some cinnamon. I'm normally not a big fan of cinnamon in banana bread, but again it's bananas foster banana bread and I'm trying to stay authentic here. That all gets folded into the wet ingredients along with some pecans and mixed just until combined. I always toast my nuts before adding them since it really enhances the flavor and adds a bit more crunch. You can toast up an extra handful for snacking and/or sprinkling on top of the finished loaf.

While the banana bread bakes, I start on the caramel sauce. It's pretty standard, starting with sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice boiling until, well, caramel-colored. The sugar acts as the base, the corn syrup keeps it from crystallizing and getting grainy, the water helps dissolve the sugar, and the lemon juice also helps prevent crystallization. Just keep cooking it on medium-high until it's a nice dark amber color, and avoid stirring it at all costs. If you stir the caramel while it cooks, it will start to crystallize, and you want a nice smooth sauce. You can start to stir it when you add in the cream, then also add in some butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Most people flambe their bananas foster, but I skip that for this sauce since most of the alcohol cooks off just by stirring it into the hot caramel.

Once the banana bread is baked and cool, you can spoon on that caramel sauce and let it soak in and drip everywhere. If it's time for dessert (or just an indulgent snack), you can heat it up and top it with vanilla ice cream and more of that boozy sauce, or if it's breakfast (or you're in my office tomorrow morning and want a sample) you can just eat it as-is.

For the Banana Bread:
3 Ripe Bananas
1 Stick Butter, Melted
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
2 T Rum
2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted

For the Caramel Sauce:
1 Cup Sugar
1 T Corn Syrup
1/4 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Cream
3 T Butter
1 1/2 T Rum
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with foil and grease.

For the banana bread, mash the bananas until mostly smooth with a fork. Add the melted butter, then stir in the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum, whisking between each addition. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together, then fold into the batter. Stir in the pecans.

Spoon the batter in to the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour or until cooked through.

For the caramel, combine the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and 3T water in a medium pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling over medium-high heat until it turns a deep amber color without stirring. Remove from heat, then whisk in the cream. Add the butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Pour on the banana bread when cool.

Makes 1 Loaf