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It’s been a while!  Last year was very busy for me and involved two big life events.  One – I got married.  Any woman who has ever had a hand in wedding planning can sympathize with me on that one.  Two – my husband and I moved out of New York City into the suburbs of New Jersey.  Big change!  Now that things have settled down a bit we have turned our energy to a big project for this year.  That project started in March with packets of seedlings I ordered online.   These packets included heirloom and organic varieties of various vegetables and herbs good to grow in our region.  We started the seedlings in peat pots of organic potting soil, set them up in our sunny (empty) spare bedroom, and bought a grow light.  Viola!  We had the makings of our very first vegetable garden.

In April we have built two large raised beds in our backyard and filled them with organic garden soil, compost, and aged manure.  The perfect medium for growing vegetables.  This past weekend we transplanted our cold weather seedlings like cabbage, cauliflower, and kale from peat pots to the garden.  We also direct sowed cold weather seeds like carrots, parsnips, radishes, lettuces, snap peas, and some varieties of beans.  Our peppers and tomatoes are still in our “incubation” room where the temperature is warmer and the light is brighter.

I look forward to watching the plants grow and learning about organic gardening.  I may have been over ambitious for a first timer, but I am playing the odds.  I figure the more variety I plant and try to grow, the better the chances are that I will have something to harvest in the next few months.  In addition to the vegetable garden we have a compost pile started in a closed bin in the backyard.  We hope to reap further benefits from all the kitchen, garden, and plant scraps by turning them into organic compost for next years garden.

Of course the best part about this, and my real inspiration, is having my own organic, fresh-from-the-garden produce.  My love of tomatoes lead me to buy 5 varieties.  Words cannot express my excitement thinking of just one successful tomato plant in my own backyard.  I hope to share my success stories (and failures) if I can keep up this season…

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Salmon

What can I say about salmon… it is a fish that we hear about all the time.  It is said to be heart healthy, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, and I have even heard it said that salmon can slow down aging!  We know this food is healthful when scientific studies prove that the above claims are actually true.  However when it comes to cooking salmon at home, or any fish fillet for that matter, many people are at a loss.

I think I know why.  I subscribe to several food magazines,  and have even more cookbooks than most people can imagine.  The other day I purchased some salmon and decided to look up a new recipe to try out.  I thought it would be easy to find a simple, healthy salmon recipe.  Not so.  Many cookbooks have just one, or maybe no salmon recipes.  The recipes I did find used smoked salmon, not fresh fillets.  Cooking shows?  Beef, pork, chicken… sometimes shrimp.  What happened to wonderful, delicious, healthy salmon?

Returning to my recipe hunt,  I eventually found one in my Bon Appetit December 2008 issue.  Thank goodness that hadn’t gone in the recycle bin.  It had a good amount of mayonnaise in it and therefore was not low-fat, but I could change that.  The fish came out beautifully and I got big thumbs up from my fiance.  He even went back for seconds.  I served it over a quinoa pilaf (also tough to find recipes for) with roasted asparagus.  Yum.  Add of course we felt really good about eating such a nutritiout meal.  Try it out.  If you don’ t have tarragon at home, you can use fresh dill – but I highly recommend the tarragon, it goes great with fish.

Roasted Salmon with Mustard Tarragon Sauce

Here are a few tips to consider when cooking salmon

  1. Salmon is naturally tender, flaky, and moist.  It requires no marinade, pounding or grinding (like meats) to make it tender.
  2. You can leave the skin on, it will easily slide off when the fish is cooked.  Don’t bother with the mess of skinning the fish.
  3. Watch our for pin bones!  Use your fingers to find and kitchen tweezers to pull them out before cooking.
  4. Fish will cook through when the center is at a lower temperatures than chicken, beef or pork.  Too much cooking time and you can really dry it out.
  5. To test doneness, take a fork and gently pull a piece of fish from the edge.  It should pull apart and flake easily, with little or no resistance.  
  6. Keep in mind that carry-over cooking will occur with thick salmon fillets.  The filet should be opaque and appear cooked through all except for a little pink spot in the very center/thickest part of the fillet.  As the fish sits for a few minutes before serving, it will cook a little further as the heat distributes itself.
  7. Citrus!  Salmon can be a bit fishy-smelling or tasting due to its higher fat content.  A few squeezes of fresh sliced lemon or other citrus will help neutralize the odor and taste.

Nutrition Breakdown for 6oz (raw) Atlantic, wild salmon fillet:

The Good: Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and one fillet can provide around 3,996mg of omega-3 fatty acids.  These help reduce inflammation in the body and therefore protect your heart, arteries, brain, and joints.  You also get 100% of your daily needs for selenium – a powerful antioxidant as well as 100% of your daily vitamin B12.  It is also an excellent source of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and phosphorus.  It is a good source of copper, potassium, and iron.  Being so high in antioxidants, no wonder this fish has such an excellent reputation among health care professionals.

The Bad:  Is there any?  Mmmm…. well it is technically high in fat, 35-45% of calories in salmon are from fat.  BUT it being so healthy, and much of the fat is unsaturated, that this is not really a bad thing.  It has about 109 mg of cholesterol in one fillet.  But again, the high level of omega-3 fatty acids cancels this out of the equation. 

Bottom Line:  Eat more salmon!  It is truly one of nature’s gifts to us and our bodies.

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We are have finished with pastry and baking – finally!  Now we are back to preparing foods that I can call dinner.  Matt is happy about that too.  We just finished five classes focused on current famous chefs.  Each day we focused on one chef and learned about their background, theory, techniques, and famous recipes.  We broke into groups, 5 each, and prepared a three course menu of recipes written by the chef (or his colleagues).  The chefs were Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, David Keller, Ming Tsai, and Rick Bayless.  Of all – I think we most thoroughly enjoyed Ming Tsai’s dishes.  They were delicious!  The reason may have been because of all the chefs, he was the most involved with writing the recipes for the lesson.

It was really interesting to see how different they dishes looked one day to the next, depending on the chef.  Surprisingly, I found the recipes no more complex than what we anything else we prepare in class.  All of the cooking technique demos by our instructors and knife skill drillshave paid off.  There was nothing within these gourmet chef recipes that our class couldn’t handle.  To top it off – all of the recipes came out tasting great!  Our class has become among chef instructors for preparing really good food.  So that explains why our plates are cleaned so quickly?

The next three classes coming up are called “market basket”.  This means that our chef instructor selects three seasonal ingredients, one being a protein, that we have have to utilize in class.  We draw names to be put in pairs and then have three hours to prepare one appetizer and one entree using all three ingredients.  Of course we have an adequately stocked “pantry” that we can also use to make our dishes.  Sounds kind of like the school’s own version of Iron Chef America right?  Well it is… except we get a little more time and there is no judge’s table (though our chef instructor will grade us).  I am a bit nervous about this whole thing, I’m not gonna lie.  But at the same time, it is the chance to really show what you’ve got.  Should be very interesting…

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Vacation

Recently, in pastry and baking, we have been making truffles, chocolate ganache, petit fours, madelines, macaroons, biscotti, caramels, butternut crunch, and much more!  Nothing healthy and all very indulgent.  I think I have been on a sugar high for the past 2 weeks.  The highest fat items we made were certainly the chocolate truffles and ganache.  The lowest fat foods we prepared were biscotti and macaroons.  However, they can both have a considerable amount of sugar.

I am looking forward to cooking real, hearty, and nourishing food again in class.  Fortunately my other job as a recipe tester for a culinary dietitian meets part of that need.  She is writing a cookbook and have been hired to help her test and evaluate all the recipes.  It should be good – the recipes are delicious.  The release date is set for March 2009, and I will let everyone know when that comes out.

Today I leave for a mini vacation in Bermuda.  We are dining out and I am hoping to write a post about the experience this weekend.  Considering it is a British territory I don’t know quite what to expect.  We shall see…

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Today we are going to make fresh mozzarella cheese by hand in class!  I will let you know how feasible this is to do at home, or how wonderfully convenient the packaged products are.

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