You better grab yourself another cup of coffee and get comfortable because this post is a long one. We had one heck of a meal last night.
My mother-in-law, Karen, is turning 70 this coming Saturday. Karen is my hero. I’m pretty sure that I can say whatever I want about Karen here because I know she doesn’t read this (I think she just learned that I even have this blog yesterday and probably still isn’t sure what a blog is), so I’m not pulling your leg when I say that Karen is amazing. She is the most positive person that I’ve ever met. She lives by the philosophy that if you put a smile on your face and are kind to people, good things will happen. Karen is endlessly encouraging to my kids, to my husband, and to me. She says what she thinks in a way that most people wouldn’t dare but she knows when to keep her opinion to herself and she is always gracious. Karen has made my job as a wife and a step-mom easier because she does not judge me my failures, but supports me as her own daughter. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have Karen as my mother-in-law. Enough personal talk.
If you’ve ever met Karen, you’ll know that her absolute favorite food is salmon. She orders salmon at every restaurant, any meal of the day. She loves it. So when Karen arrived in town on Saturday to celebrate her birthday, we decided to begin the celebration with a dinner in her honor. A dinner featuring salmon, of course.
My husband grilled the salmon using a recipe from his favorite cookbook, Fire In My Belly (page 197). He skipped the rapini because we were having two salads already, and replaced the Marcona almonds with regular almonds because that’s what we had on hand. Rob also made a few adjustments to the sherry vinegar reduction based on what we had on hand. He ran out of sherry vinegar (not best-quality as instructed), used two oranges instead of three, and cane syrup instead of raw cane sugar.
I’d love to give you the proportions, but to be honest, I was managing other pieces of dinner and have no idea what he did. Either way, you should absolutely try this recipe (or I guess collection of recipes). The fish and the sauce were amazing. I don’t typically like salmon, although I’m beginning to think I’m wrong about this. It could also be that my husband is a much better cook than I am. Or that I just don’t like eating things that I cook. Anyway, try the salmon. Karen says so.
To go with our salmon, we had two fantastic salads. Karen is very disciplined about not eating “white food” (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, dessert, etc.) and after our score in the vegetable department, salad seemed the natural choice.
We made a carrot salad from the Buvette cookbook which you have previously seen here. This salad was gone. I mean gone. I failed to double the salad (and was serving 10 people) but to stretch it, I served it over a bed of spinach. This was a great solution. It got the kids eating spinach and looked pretty. This salad was by far the kids’ favorite dish on the table. Second time around, I would say that this carrot salad is quite easy and still unbelievably tasty. I highly recommend it.
The second salad that we made was a celery salad. Now, you all know that I’m a Louisiana girl at heart. Where I come from, celery is a seasoning, not a food. I see celery and think it’s time to make gumbo. I did not grow up eating ants on a log or tuna salad with celery chunks. My husband did grow up with celery as a food. His grandmother made stuffed celery as an appetizer on holidays. Stuffed celery was as traditional to my husband growing up as oyster stuffing was to me. This could not have sounded more weird to me when I first heard it. Who stuffs celery? Well, who am I to judge? I eat okra. And crawfish. I do not eat oyster stuffing, just for the record. Anyway, it was Karen’s party, so I thought we would throw in some celery.
As with all recipes from Ina Garten, this simple salad was flavorful and rested entirely on using quality ingredients. This salad is great because it uses the parts of the celery that I’ve never used except to make chicken stock – the tender hearts of celery, leaves and all. You just can’t go wrong with anything that calls for good parmesan and toasted walnuts.
The directions for the salad are quite specific that it should be made at least an hour in advance, and that the celery should be tossed in lemon juice and salt prior to being coated in dressing. It turns out that my four year-old sous-chef missed that direction as he was helping me with the dressing. He poured all of my extra lemon juice into the dressing while I went out to the garage fridge to get the celery. “There wasn’t enough lemon in here, Mom, so I just added some more.” Truly. The only saving grace is he is a terrible mixer so most of the lemon juice was still sitting on top of the dressing so I could throw it into the bowl in which the celery was destined to be tossed.
I had a lot of leftover dressing. You could easily half the dressing in this recipe for the 5 cups of celery that this calls for. Or double just the celery if you are serving a crowd. I did add more than 5 cups of celery once I saw how much dressing the recipe made, but still had tons of leftover dressing. This salad also has anchovy paste in it, which is not in most pantries, but is readily available. Live on the edge. Give the anchovy paste a try.
Are you still with me? Is this not the longest post every? We’re almost there. The final chapter. Dessert. Plum tarts from Bon Appétit. Easiest dessert ever. Open puff pastry. Cut into squares (rectangles in my case). Prick with a fork. Top with plums, sugar (I reduced my sugar by half), and a grind of black pepper. Bake. Serve with a drizzle of honey and salt flakes. And vanilla ice cream. Delicious. There are plums everywhere right now. You owe it to yourself to make these tarts.
Thanks for hanging in there. You’ve been a trouper. I sure wish you could have enjoyed this meal with us. When are you coming for dinner?