Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon with Avocado Salsa

Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon With Tomato Avocado Relish

I love wild salmon. Growing up I wasn’t so fond of salmon, because I had only been exposed to the canned variety and I was not impressed. Several years ago I decided to try a fresh fillet and I immediately fell in love!

Salmon is a very healthy option overall as long as you focus on wild salmon and not the farmed variety. It’s also quick cooking and delicious! Both pluses in my opinion!

So what you should look for?

First follow your nose. If it smells fishy, then you don’t want it! Next give it a poke. Is the flesh firm? You want it to be firm, with just a bit of give. And don’t forget to read the label! Remember you’re looking for a variety that was not farm raised!

This dish can be done year around, but it’s especially nice in the summer when the vegetables are fresh. It takes about 4 minutes to throw together and 10-15 minutes to cook and assemble. How’s that for quick? There is just nothing better than a quick, healthy, delicious meal!

What You’ll Need for the Salmon:
A nice sized salmon fillet (Note: The one I used would feed roughly four people.)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lime juice

Preheat oven to 425 F.

In a large skillet over medium heat a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle a salmon fillet with sea salt and black pepper. Right before you put it in the skillet drizzle the top with freshly squeezed lime juice and place it skin up in the pan until brown nicely browned:

Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon With Tomato Avocado Relish: Browning

This take about 1-2 minutes:

Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon With Tomato Avocado Relish: Ready For Oven

Flip the fillet over, with the skin down and place in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes until almost done through.

Remove from oven and place on a cutting board:

Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon With Tomato Avocado Relish: Salmon Resting

Let sit for 5 minutes. It will continue cooking as it sits.

When ready to serve, cut into individual servings and top with relish. (See below.)

Now move on to your relish.

Better Bites: Pan Seared Salmon With Tomato Avocado Relish: Relish

What You’ll Need for the Tomato Avocado Relish:
2 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters (Note: Any kind of tomatoes will work, but I like to use the smaller variety for this.)
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/3 cup of fresh dill, chopped
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of freshly squeeze lime juice

In a large bowl toss together all ingredients to mix well. Place a nice sized scoop on top of the cooked salmon fillets.

Notes: This relish is good on most any fish or even grilled chicken. Don’t add the avocado until the last minute. The salmon is also good by itself cooked this way.

Chicken Gumbo

Chicken Gumbo

So first up let’s talk some tomatoes!

I spent most of the day canning yesterday. I ended up with 17 quarts of tomatoes from the 40 pounds! My pressure gauge from my pressure canner was broken so I ended up doing the hot water bath method instead. Whatever…It worked, so that is all I can ask for! I’ll replace my gauge and try the pressure method next time and in all honesty I wasn’t too heartbroken that the gauge wouldn’t work since the thought of pressure canning/cooking sort of freaks me out to begin with.

The majority of the jars were canned as diced tomatoes, but I did do two jars of whole tomatoes and 3 of the crushed variety. Now Alexis and I can make lots of tomato based soups this winter! Fun!

Now let’s talk some gumbo! (Why do I keep typing that “gumob” instead of “gumbo”??)

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at gumbo, but just never had. I have made Étouffée in the past, but never gumbo. It’s really a simple dish, and in fact I’ve always sort of thought of it as “gravy soup” given the roux base (Somewhere some Cajun/Creole cook just rolled over in their grave at my sacrilege!), but it provides a definite wow factor with only a few simple ingredients. Simple and delicious…I’ll take it!

What You’ll Need:
1/2 a large red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
6-8 ribs of celery, chopped
1 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 1/2 quarts of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of a good salt free Cajun or Creole seasoning
1-2 cups of okra, sliced
2 cups of shredded chicken

First chop onion, bell pepper and celery:

Chicken Gumbo: The Holy Trinity

This is known as the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun and Creole cooking. Set aside.

Now let’s talk roux!

Ultimately you want to end up with a lovely, brown, nutty smelling roux that looks like this:

Chicken Gumbo: Roux

This was my first pass at roux in a while and I have to say I was amazed by how easy it was! There is sort of a stigma surrounding roux that it is hard to make, but I don’t think that is the case! In my head I remembered it as difficult though, I’m not sure why.

Roux is basically fat and flour. I chose to use olive oil, but I’ve seen and read that it can be made with butter or a clear oil. I also added with the flour and oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper:

Chicken Gumbo: Ready to Make Roux

Stir the ingredients to mix until smooth.

When you read recipes for roux it says to stir constantly and I have to be honest…I don’t stand around and stir ANYTHING constantly! I checked it every minute and half to two minutes or so and gave it a good stir. So it was more like stir, put away a few dishes out of the dishwasher, stir, put away a few more, stir, put away the last of the dishes, stir, wipe down the counter, stir, sweep the kitchen a bit, stir, sweep a bit more, etc.

That being said you have to be careful! You want to make your roux over a low to medium heat. Keep in mind you can go from nutty brown to scorched quickly! When it starts getting slightly brown pay closer attention to your roux. It will turn a lovely brown color and actually smell nutty. Basically you’re making a brown gravy and this takes anywhere from 10-15 minutes.

Once you have browned your roux toss in your “holy trinity” and stir to mix:

Chicken Gumbo: The Holly Trinity Ready To Cook

Cook the vegetables for 5-10 minutes until tender, stirring often.

Next add chicken broth, Cajun or Creole seasoning, okra and chicken and stir to mix:

Chicken Gumbo: Ready to Simmer

(Note: If you can not find Cajun or Creole seasoning that is salt free then omit the salt from the roux.) Bring the gumbo to a quick boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1-2 hours partially covered. (Note: I like to do this by leaving the spoon in the pot and placing the lid on. It allows the pot to be partially covered and you’re ready to stir at a moments notice!) Stir occasionally.

To serve, place some rice in the bottom of a bowl:

Chicken Gumbo: Rice

Next top with a spoonful of gumbo:

Chicken Gumbo

You can also serve this with hot sauce and/or chopped parsley.

Notes: You can make gumbo with just about anything. Shrimp is good, or crayfish, or crab, etc. It also freezes well.

Better Bites: My Take on Ratatouille

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille

For a while now I’ve been meaning to make a Ratatouille type dish, but just never got around to doing just that. This time of year is just perfect for this because you have so many fresh, local, healthy ingredients right at your finger tips! By pairing a few vegetables and some herbs you’ve got a fabulous meal that tastes amazing. I love simple, yet delicious!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Red potatoes
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Yellow squash
1 small eggplant
Red onion
Garlic scapes

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Brush a pie plate with olive oil and place a layer of potatoes of the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Potatoes

You want to add just a little salt. You’re going to be seasoning each layer, so you want just enough salt for the layer in question. Don’t let yourself get to heavy with the salt, or you’ll end up with a dish that is too salty to eat. You want somewhere between 1/8 to 1/4 a teaspoon per layer spread evenly.

Next add a layer of sliced tomatoes on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, thyme and rosemary:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Tomatoes and Herbs

Be generous with everything but the salt. This picture was taken mid sprinkling. Make sure to get lots of herbs on this layer!

For the top layer you want to place zucchini, squash and eggplant to cover the top. Top this with red onion and garlic scapes. (Note: If you don’t have garlic scapes you can use 4-6 cloves of crushed garlic instead.) Next drizzle the top with a bit more olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt, more freshly ground black pepper, thyme and rosemary:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Ready to Bake

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover at the 30 minute mark and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until slightly browned and vegetables are tender:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Baked

Serve immediately.

Now let’s have some fun with leftovers!

When the leftovers sit in the fridge overnight the mixture breaks down a bit, especially the tomatoes and it forms something that resembles more like a chunky Ratatouille Soup:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Ratatouille Becomes Soup (The Next Day!)

You can reheat and eat this as is, or you can throw in some chicken to make it an more hearty soup:

Better Bites: Dianne's Take On Ratatouille: Ratatouille Becomes Soup (The Next Day!)

I love taking left overs and making them slightly different!

Notes: You could add shrimp or beef to the “soup” the next day too. Or as I said before you could just enjoy it as is for a vegan treat. Also oregano could be added in place of, or in addition to the herbs used.

Potato and Corn Chowder

Potato and Corn Chowder

Often time you will find in my fridge left over corn on the cob (one of Lex’s favorites!) and left over roasted potatoes (one of Jamison’s staples) and while left overs are good, why not take them an make something else? So that’s just what I did!

This chowder is completely dairy free, making it a bit lighter, but you’ll never miss that addition. You’ll use corn to help thicken the chowder instead of flour as well. This is a fresh, hearty, yet healthy meal that is easy to make. What’s not to like about that?

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
3 garlic scapes, chopped (Note: I found some garlic scapes that had been pushed to the back of my vegetable drawer from earlier this year and they were still good! If you don’t have scapes you can use 2-3 cloves of minced garlic instead.)
2 cups of roasted potato chunks (Note: If you don’t have any left over roast some yourself at 425 F with a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper until golden brown and tender.)
4-6 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cob and divided
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 quart of broth (Note: I used chicken, but whatever you have on hand is fine.)
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of dried dill

In a large pot sauté red onion and garlic scapes in a little extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until tender:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Onions and Garlic Scapes

Next add potatoes and stir to mix:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Onions, Garlic Scapes and Potatoes

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to “warm” the potatoes.

While the potatoes are “warming” move on to your corn.

Remove the kernels from the cobs. Take half of the kernels (if you’re using 4 ears then two of the ears, if you’re using 6 then 3) and place them in them in your food processor:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Corn

Next process until mostly smooth:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Creamed

Add the creamed corn to your pot:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Creamed Corn

Stir to mix.

Next add remaining ingredients and stir well:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Almost Ready

Bring to a quick boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. The soup will thicken a bit as it cooks.

Serve immediately.

Potato and Corn Chowder: Up Close

Notes: You could add in other ingredients if you liked. I had intended to add shredded carrots, but forgot when I was making the soup. You could also switch up the seasonings. Why not Old Bay instead of thyme and dill? Or you could go with only thyme, or only dill. It’s up to you.

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

A couple of weeks ago I was testing out pasta salad ideas trying to decided what I wanted to take to church for them to bring to the shelter. This was one of the dishes that I came up with and I loved it! You know me and Old Bay…It’s one of my favorite things!

I really loved how this turned out, but not everyone is a fan of Old Bay and some people think it’s a little hot, so ultimately I went with something a bit more “tame”, but I wanted to shared this with you anyway! The vegetables are just the right cool bite, while the Old Bay gives it some zing! This is just perfect as a side dish or even as a main course on a hot summer day!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 14.5 ounce package of macaroni noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled (Note: I used a whole grain variety, but you any kind will do.)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 a large red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, cut into spears and then chopped
1 carrot, shredded
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1-2 ounces of sundried tomatoes, chopped (Note: I like to use the ones that are not packed in oil for this, but either would work.)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of light sour cream
1/4 cup of light mayo
1 tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning

Cook your pasta, drain and cool. If you want to cool it quickly rinse it with cool water.

Old Bay Macaroni Salad: Macaroni

Place cooled pasta in a large glass bowl. Add bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, carrot and sundried tomatoes and toss or stir to mix. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together sour cream, mayo and Old Bay seasoning until well mixed:

Old Bay Macaroni Salad: Dressing

Add Old Bay mixture to the pasta/vegetable mixture and stir to mix:

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for several hours before serving.

Notes: Squash or zucchini would be a nice addition, or perhaps some sauteed mushrooms or peas. Some shredded Parmesan would be fabulous too!

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish)

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish)

Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes! I just love fresh tomatoes! There is just nothing that can compare. Sure they’re fabulous for eating all by themselves, but their flavor is really good cooked as well!

Tomato slices are really fabulous paired with mozzarella, herbs and Parmesan and baked as a pizza! With a few simple ingredients, you’ve got a really fabulous pizza that is just perfect paired with a salad as a summer meal!

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish): Tomatoes!

What You’ll Need for the Pizza Crust:
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour (Note: You could use white whole wheat flour instead.)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 tablespoon of yeast
1 tablespoon of organic cane sugar or honey
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
3/4-1 cup of warm water

In a large glass bowl stir together flour, sea salt, yeast and organic cane sugar. (Note: If you are using honey add the honey to the water.) Stir to mix.

Add olive oil to the flour mixture and then slowly add water, stirring until dough forms. Depending on humidity and things of that nature you may need some of the water, all of it, or even perhaps a bit more. When the dough ball forms you know to stop. You want a slightly sticky dough, but not too sticky.

Set the dough aside for at least 10 minutes to an hour.

This is enough dough to make one 12-14 inch pizza or several individual sized pizzas.

What You’ll Need to Make the Pizza:
Dough (see above)
Tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Basil, cut into strips
Dried oregano
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder or salt

Preheat oven to 425 F.

First up you’ll need to decide what size pizza you are making. I went with individual sized. If you are making a big pie then spread the dough out onto a pan that has been oiled or sprayed with non-stick spray. If you’re making the smaller variety I usually bake them in “rough” form on a baking sheet lined with my Silpat.

After the dough is spread you want to top it with tomatoes and mozzarella slices. You can do this one of several ways…You can fan them out like this:

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish): Ready for Basil

Or you can make a layer of tomatoes and then top it with a layer of mozzarella or you can place the layer of mozzarella first and then top it with tomatoes. It’s completely up to you.

Next you want to top your mozzarella with basil, a sprinkle of sea salt, some freshly ground black pepper, a generous sprinkle of dried oregano, a drizzle of olive oil and a nice shake of garlic powder or salt:

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish): Ready for Parmesan

Note: If you are going to use garlic powder then omit the sea salt.

Last add a generous sprinkle of Parmesan and then pop it into the oven:

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish): Baking

Bake for 8-12 minutes until crust is golden, cheese melts and tomatoes are tender:

Fresh Pizza Margherita(ish): Baked

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Notes: You could use fresh oregano if you liked, but I really think that dried oregano just has such a lovely concentrated flavor. You could also use fresh garlic, but the powdered garlic gives it more of a uniform taste. This is one of the few places where I prefer powder garlic versus fresh.

Better Bites: Vegetable Burgers

Better Bites: Vegetable Burgers

I love veggie burgers! My favorite kind to buy from the store is just your standard Boca Burger, but you can easily make them at home with various ingredients for a healthy alternative when you want to cut out a little meat.

This version pairs summer vegetables, that some of you probably have coming out of your ears, with beans and rice to make a hearty, yet healthy alternative to the standard burger. Dress it up however you like it, pair it with some oven fries and/or a side salad and you’ve got the perfect meal!

What You’ll Need:
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 small yellow squash, chopped
1 portabella mushroom cap, chopped
1/2 a red onion, chopped
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped
Extra virgin oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ear of corn, stripped from the cob
1 carrot, shredded
1 cup of cooked black eyed peas
2 cups of cooked chick peas
2 cups of cooked brown rice
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450 F. (Note: I like to do this part in my toaster oven. It doesn’t heat up the house as much!)

Better Bites: Veggie Burgers: Veggies Ready To Roast

Chop zucchini, yellow squash, mushroom and onions and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground sea salt. Place veggies in a preheated oven and roast until veggies are tender. About 20-30 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly.

In a food processor (or if you don’t have one with a potato masher or food mill) process chick peas and black eyed peas until smooth. (Note: If you want you can use a little of the liquid from cooking the beans if it doesn’t smooth out well. If you are using canned beans you can use a little liquid from the can.)

In a large glass bowl mix together corn kernels, shredded carrots, roasted vegetables, processed beans, rice and eggs until completely incorporated.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Next spray a 2/3 cup measuring cup with non-stick spray and place the filling into it packing it tightly. Turn the “burger” out of the cup into a baking dish that has also been sprayed with non-stick spray:

Better Bites: Vegetable Burgers Ready To Bake

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown:

Better Bites: Vegetable Burgers Baked

I like to serve these on toasted flat bread with a little mayo:

Better Bites: Vegetable Burgers

But you can top them however you like!

Makes 11-12 veggie burgers.

Notes: You can add in other vegetables if you like, or season the mixture to your liking. Cajun seasoning it good, or even Old Bay.

Summer Vegetable Soup

Summer Vegetable Soup

Some people think that warm soups are only a cold weather food, but I’ve never fallen into that line of thinking. I love soup, Alexis loves soup, and it seems a shame to just corral it into the cooler months of the year, though I do make more soup during those times. So even during summer you’ll see soup pop up on our menu from time to time.

The other day I was in the mood for soup and surprisingly while I was thinking about soup Alexis actually asked me if we could have soup for dinner. Alexis’ go to soup is chicken noodle, but I decided I wanted to take some of my fresh vegetables and whip up a soup with those. You could really eat this soup year round, utilizing frozen vegetables, but with the fresh variety it really gives the soup that much more!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large zucchini, chopped
1-2 yellow squash, chopped
1-2 carrots, cut in half and sliced
2-3 ears of corn, kernels stripped from the cob
1-2 cups of green beans, cut into bite sized pieces
1 quart of canned tomatoes (Note: If you don’t have canned tomatoes you can use 2 -14.5 ounce cans of tomatoes instead.)
2 quarts of chicken broth
A generous pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons of dried thyme

(Note: The proportions of this soup do NOT have to be perfect! If you have a little more of something and little less of something else that’s completely OK. You can mix and match what you add.)

In a large stock pot sauté the onions, celery, zucchini, squash, carrots, corn and green beans until onions are tender. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, sea salt, black pepper, oregano and thyme and stir to mix. Taste the soup and if it needs more salt or pepper add it now.

Bring soup to a quick boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Serve immediately.

This soup also freezes well.

Notes: This soup has endless possibilities. You can add in peas, or fresh chick peas, or leeks, or mushrooms, or potatoes, etc. Go with what you have on hand and what you like. You could also add in bit of chicken, steak or shrimp. If you liked rice or noodles either could be added as well.

Cocktail Time: Frozen Blueberry Margaritas

Cocktail Time! Frozen Blueberry Margarita

I love blueberries and Alexis does too. Sometimes though we don’t eat them fast enough and I often end up with blueberries in the freezer to keep them from going bad. The frozen variety are perfect for blueberry sauce, muffins, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry ice cream or even to eat as a nice little frozen treat, but why not take them to another level?

A few weeks ago I decided to make some margaritas, but I didn’t want to make just the general version. I thought about many things and finally I thought it might be nice to throw in some frozen blueberries and see how that would turn out. It turned out well! If you like blueberries and want a margarita with a twist then this is the drink for you!

What You’ll Need:
2 cups of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup of simple syrup
1 cup of triple sec
3/4 cup of tequila
2 cups of frozen blueberries (Note: These were local blueberries that I froze myself. In theory the ones you buy at the grocery store should work as well, though I haven’t tried them.)
Organic cane sugar for rimming the glasses

Cocktail Time! Frozen Blueberry Margarita

Dump all of your ingredients into the jar of your blender and blend until mostly smooth.

I actually like little frozen blueberry bits in my drink, but if you want something a bit smoother then you can strain the mixture before putting it into the glass.

Cocktail Time! Frozen Blueberry Margarita

Wet the edge of your glasses and dip them into organic cane sugar. Pour the blueberry margaritas into the glasses and serve.

Notes: When I’m making a straight up margarita I prefer to rim the glasses with salt, but when it is a fruity version I prefer sugar.