Crispy Salmon and Colcannon (Irish Potatoes with Cabbage, Kale and Leeks)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Hungry Athlete style! Irish comfort food, colcannon, is mashed potatoes made with kale or cabbage. On Halloween, charms are hidden inside the colcannon. If you find a ring, it means you will someday marry; if you find a thimble, you are doomed to be a spinster.  Who knew mashed potatoes could be so exciting? There’s even a song about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCQbksGz67U Colcannon is traditionally served with Irish bacon or boiled ham, however, since my coach is evaluating my diet this week, I decided to pair it with salmon.  I omitted the butter (and the ring and thimble) from the colcannon and saved it to prepare a sauce for the salmon.  And instead of using just kale or cabbage, I combined both and added leeks to pack a variety of nutrient rich vegetables into the colcannon.  The vegetables are typically chopped finely, blanched to soften, then combined with the potatoes.  To create a smoother colcannon, I lightly pulsed the vegetables in a food processor after blanching.  (A blender can be used as well.)  This saved me some chopping time and I liked the texture.  If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, just chop the vegetables up more finely at the beginning and skip the food processor. Colcannon is great for breakfast too!  Try using leftover colcannon for Colcannon with Poached Eggs and Smoked Salmon. Serving size: 4 Crispy Skin Salmon Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces of wild salmon, skin on (3 ounces per person)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Colcannon Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut in large even chunks
  • 1 leek, rinsed well and chopped
  • 3 scallions stalks or 2 spring onion stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cabbage, rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 4 curly kale leaves, stem removed and rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup of milk or 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions: Colcannon Place the potatoes in a large pot of water with a little salt. Bring the water to a boil for 5 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain the water from the pot.

DSC_6999
If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, chop the vegetables up more finely than this and skip using the food processor or blender.

Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the vegetables. First, add the leeks and cabbage to the boiling water. After 5 minutes, add the kale and continue blanching for another 4 minutes until all the vegetables are bright in color and tender. Then add 2/3 of the scallions or spring onions for 1 more minute. DSC_7001 Reserve about 1/4 cup of the hot greenish water from the pot. The water contains nutrients and can be used to add moisture to the potatoes. Then strain or remove the vegetables from the water and place in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper and pulse until all of the vegetables are combined.

DSC_7003
Pulse it gently for a more rustic texture but definitely do not puree it. Some texture is good.

Add sour cream and milk or Greek yogurt to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes. If it appears dry, add a splash of the reserved vegetable water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable mixture until just combined. It’s a rustic dish so I prefer chunks of white mashed potato with the green vegetables speckled throughout. Place a lid on the pot to keep the colcannon warm.

DSC_7007
Traditionally, a well is created in the middle and a Irish butter is added. By adding sour cream or Greek yogurt, I didn’t miss the butter. In addition, that allowed me to allocate the butter to creating a lemon butter sauce for the salmon.

Salmon Rinse the salmon and remove any bones. Pat dry with paper towels then slice the salmon into 4 pieces. Score the skin of the salmon by making a few shallow, diagonal cuts on the skin. This will help the skin crisp up but not curl up when cooked. Coat each piece with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Allow the salmon to sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before cooking. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining olive oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully drop the salmon on the pan, skin side down. Depending on the thickness of the salmon, cook for about 5 – 6 minutes watching the color change on the cut side of the flesh. When the color changes for 3/4 of the salmon, flip the salmon over and continue cooking for about 2 more minutes. This is called unilateral (uneven) cooking and ensures a crispy skin.  I usually   flake off a piece of the salmon with a fork to inspect for doneness.  A meat thermometer can also be used.  The salmon is done when the tiniest sliver of flesh is almost cooked or the temperature is 125F – 130F.  Remove the salmon from the pan and let it rest for at least 5 minutes.  The salmon will continue to cook through. After the salmon is removed, heat the pan back up on medium heat.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot and a pinch of salt.  Stir and simmer until the lemon reduces almost in half, then slowly add slices of cold butter, swirling the pan around to incorporate the butter. Place the salmon on a bed of colcannon. Spoon over the lemon butter sauce.  Sprinkle some reserved green or spring onion on top for garnish. DSC_7019

Cod Baked with Tomatoes, Artichokes and Lemon (Psari Plaki)

Psari Plaki is a traditional Greek style of baking fish with olive oil, tomatoes and vegetables. The Hungry Athlete’s version is cooked in parchment paper and was inspired by one of my father’s best friends and tennis partner, Gene Cohen. Gene owned the Somerville Inn, a New Jersey restaurant and banquet hall, with his wife Barbara. Both had passed away over 20 years ago. Barbara Cohen was a successful children’s book writer. Her first book, The Carp in the Bathtub, is a childhood favorite of mine. I have a fond memory of Barbara reading this book to me. Barbara also introduced me to my first peach. She had a gentle way about her and taught me not to be afraid of the fuzzy fruit. I attempted  to eat three that day. If you are looking for good children’s books, I highly recommend her books. Here’s more about Barbara:

http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/cohen-barbara

One summer, my family was invited to the Jersey shore by the Cohens. Mr. Cohen prepared one of the most delicious fish I ever had as a child.  Whenever my father dined with friends at the Somerville Inn, Gene would not allow my father to order from the menu.  Gene insisted on asking my father what he felt like eating and my father always answered” You surprise me”.  My father told me that he “had wonderful meals, not from the menu.”

We must have had insatiable and disappointed eyes after we devoured the fish because Gene immediately ran out to buy more. When he returned with more fresh fish, Gene had my father’s and my undivided attention. Although we studied how Gene created this heavenly dish, all I remember now is that the fish was cooked in a tomato sauce, with possibly ketchup added, and wrapped in aluminum foil. But more than 30 years later, I remember how it tasted,

In my first few attempts to replicate Gene’s recipe, I experimented preparing the fish with canned diced tomatoes and ketchup. It didn’t achieve the flavors I remembered. Ketchup also has too much sugar in it so I substituted it with tomato paste. Next, I exchanged canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes. The Jersey shore has lots of wonderful fresh tomatoes in the summer so I suspect Gene used fresh tomatoes. I also replaced the aluminum foil with parchment paper. The foil can react to and possibly impact the flavor of acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, white wine and lemon juice.

Although my tongue cannot confirm for sure if I replicated the flavors from 30 years ago, I think it’s fairly close. With every bite, I am brought back to that evening, at the Jersey shore with Gene and Barbara Cohen, who introduced me to new foods when I was a child and who were great family friends.  No carp in the bathtub here, only cod in parchment.

Serving size: 2 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cod or halibut, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion (about 1 cup), sliced thin
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow and red grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup of rough chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 springs of fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 lemons, cut each lemon into 2 thin slices (4 slices in total) and then juice both lemons (about 1/2 cup lemon juice)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and cut in halves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Inspect the fish for bones. I keep a tweezer in the kitchen specifically for removing small fish bones. After removing any bones, rinse the fish and pat it dry with paper towels. The fish should be dry to absorb all the great flavors you will be adding to it later. Set the fish aside. The fish should be covered and returned to the refrigerator if you have not prepared all the vegetables in advance.

In a fry pan over medium heat, sauté sliced red onion and sliced garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil until tender and fragrant.

DSC_6908

Stir together tomato paste and white wine, then add the mixture to the onion and garlic.

Add the tomatoes and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, then continue to sauté for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.  Stir in the fresh parsley, then remove it from the heat and set aside.

DSC_6910

Tear off two generous pieces of parchment paper large enough to wrap the fish with the tomatoes, onion and artichokes. To prepare the parchment packets, place one tablespoon of olive oil in the middle of each piece of parchment paper, then place the fish on top of the olive oil. Spoon another tablespoon of olive oil on top of the fish and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice on top of each fish fillet. Season the fish well with salt and pepper.  Next, place one sprig of thyme and one sprig of oregano on top of each fish fillet.

IMG_8433

Place 1/2 cup of artichokes around each fish. Finally, spoon the tomato mixture on top of the fish and artichokes. Be careful not to cover the thyme and oregano. This ensures you and your dinner guest will be able to see the herbs and put them on the side of the plate. Nobody really wants to eat whole sprig of thyme or oregano.

Wrap the parchment paper around the fish and ensure the edges are enclosed tightly. Here’s a video demonstrating how to wrap the fish the proper French way: http://www.finecooking.com/videos/fish-in-parchment.aspx . This method ensures the steam is trapped inside the packet, however when I’m in a rush, I wrap the fish by turning the fish so it’s longest horizontally.  I then grab the top and bottom ends of the parchment paper and and turn over the edges over a couple of times. Just make sure to fold it tightly together. Next I fold the long ends in, forming a triangle, like wrapping a present.  Lastly, I tuck in the triangle ends under the fish.

DSC_6724

DSC_6725

Bake for 15 minutes or more depending on the thickness of the fish. You can serve the fish in the parchment packet. Just cut a slit down the top of the paper to reveal the fish or you can carefully remove it from the parchment paper. Remember to tell your dinner guests to remove the sprigs of thyme and oregano.

Serve with brown rice or a Greek salad.

DSC_6907

IMG_8435

IMG_8443


Valentine’s Day Hungry Athlete Style

Ah Valentine’s Day … the most grandiose of Hallmark holidays. While I don’t need Hallmark to tell me when to be romantic, it’s still a good excuse to flirt and eat chocolate.

How will this Hungry Athlete celebrate Valentine’s Day? Well, by supporting her boy, Rama at his first 100K trail race of course! Around the same time many couples will be gazing at each other over a romantic dinner, Rama and I will be scantily clad and engaging in a sweaty one on one moment. I’ll be pacing him, I mean chasing him, for about 10 miles, to the finish line. While this day will be all about Rama, it will still be a romantic treat for me to be able to support him and see him at the finish line.

Back to the flirting and chocolates. Although Rama will need to stick to a race day diet, I will have a few surprises up my sleeves.

Ta da! Here are the fun treats I’ll have waiting for him at the aid stations.  I made the tags myself but found templates for the tags here:

http://www.skiptomylou.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/fruitlabels.pdf

DSC_6872

But unless you are spending February 14th at an ultramarathon, you are probably looking for something a little more exciting to give to your Valentine.

Here are some decadent but healthy treats that your Valentine will find extra sweet because it’s hand made by you. These Dark Chocolate Covered Fruits and Nuts are so easy to make and are a better alternative to those sugary candy conversation hearts.

Ingredients:

Use your favorite fresh or dried fruits and roasted nuts. I like to sprinkle a little flake salt on top of the chocolate before it hardens. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Dried banana chips
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranate arils (seeds)
  • Clementine
  • Assorted roasted nuts
  • Dried fruit (cranberries and apricots)
  • Chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate 60-70% cacao)
  • Flake salt

Directions:

Melt the chocolate chips over a bowl set over bowling water or in a microwave. I dipped the fruit in the chocolate and placed them on parchment paper. Refrigerate for 3-5 minutes to harden.

DSC_6877

If it weren’t for his race, we’d probably be at home making Valentine’s Day dinner together. Here are some ideas for a Valentine’s dinner at home.

Appetizer/Salad:

Beet and Watermelon Salad

Orange, Fennel and Arugula Salad

Main Course:

Beouf Bourgignon

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Curry Mustard Quinoa, Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberries and Toasted Almonds

Dessert:

Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse

Frozen Strawberry Lemon Yogurt

Vegetable Lasagna

I was challenged this holiday to come up with festive meals that would satisfy both vegetarian and carnivore hungry athletes at the same table. When I developed the menus, I had 3 requirements: 1) Each of the main ingredients’ attributes should stand on it’s own. For example, I’m not a fan of tofurkey, chick’n or any food being doctored up to substitute real meat. If tofu is an ingredient, then it should be prepared in a way that it can be savored; 2) The dish should be worthy of special occasions, requiring a little labor of love and; 3) The dish should be comforting.

Voila. For Christmas eve, the main dish was Vegetable Pot Pie and for Christmas day, the main course was Vegetable Lasagna. Each of these recipes can be modified to include protein, such as meat or tofu.  The lasagna freezes well and is a fast and nutritious meal that heats up quickly after a workout or for a busy weekday dinner.  If you have extra mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, make a little extra tomato sauce and roast a little extra zucchini and roasted peppers.  You can use these ingredients to make a nice pizza the next day.

Here’s how I made the lasagna.

Serving size: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 of large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 16 ounces shredded mozzarella
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick and roasted
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 roasted red peppers, cut into strips
  • 8 ounce package oven-ready, no boil lasagna noodle

Directions:

Preheat to 375F 

Sauce:

In 3.5 quart French oven, sauté diced onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes more. Add diced tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, bay leaf, sugar, basil, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes.

Roast red bell peppers:

While the tomato sauce simmers, roast bell peppers. There are several ways to roast peppers. I like to blister the whole peppers over a gas flame.  Allow the peppers to cool and remove the charred skin.  I don’t bother to place them in a paper bag or cover with plastic wrap.  It’s not necessary for this recipe to remove all of the skin.

Core the peppers and cut into quarters. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place the pepper quarters skin side up and roast in oven at 375F for about 20 minutes or until softened.

Roast zucchini:

Using a mandolin, slice zucchini into 1/4 inch strips. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and roast in over at 375F. Turn over after 10 minutes and continue to toss until softened.

Building first layer of lasagna:

Remove bay leaf from tomato sauce. Coat the bottom of lasagna pan with tomato sauce. I used a 10.5 x 8.75 x 2.5 inch ceramic casserole dish. Place first layer of lasagna noodles over the tomato sauce, overlapping each noodle by ¼ inch. Gently spread ricotta cheese over the noodles being careful not to break noodles. Lay roasted zucchini strips. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cover with thin layer of tomato sauce making sure to coat the noodles.

Gently spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese over lasagna noodles.
Gently spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese over lasagna noodles.

DSC_6684

Second layer of lasagna:

Place next layer lasagna noodles over the zucchini and tomato sauce. Spread thin layer of ricotta cheese over the noodles, lay roasted peppers, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cover with another thin layer of tomato sauce.

DSC_6687

Third layer of lasagna:

Place third layer of lasagna noodles over roasted peppers and tomato sauce. Spread with thin layer of ricotta cheese. Squeeze out all the moisture from spinach and spread evenly over ricotta and noodles. Repeat layering with mozzarella and tomato sauce.

DSC_6690

Last layer of lasagna:

Place forth and last layer of lasagna over the spinach layer. Cover with remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375F for 40 minutes.

DSC_6691

DSC_6701

 

Use the extra mozzarella, parmesan, tomato sauce, roasted zucchini and roasted peppers to make a pizza the next day.  Enjoy it with champagne like I did here.
Use the extra mozzarella, parmesan, tomato sauce, roasted zucchini and roasted peppers to make a pizza the next day. Enjoy it with champagne like I did here.