Blackened Salmon with Feta-Yogurt Sauce and Golden Couscous

This recipe was particularly fun to make, and especially fun to photograph.  For some reason I ended up putting it on my floor, taking a photo of it there, and then sitting in the same spot and eating the whole dish.  There is a small window of time, usually around 2pm, when sun manages to find a small crevice between all of the tall New York City buildings and floods into my second floor apartment, and therefore onto me.  I love sitting and eating under the sunshine during this brief moment, which is what I was able to do today.

The truth is that I just got back from a relaxing and much-appreciated vacation with my mom and sister in Barbados, and I’ve got fish on my mind in a major way.  Almost every meal we ate there featured grilled fish – usually mahi mahi, snapper, or dorado – lightly seasoned and served with plenty of Scotch bonnet hot sauce (my new favorite hot and slightly sweet sauce, in case you’re wondering).  For this reason the only recipe ideas that were swimming in my mind were fish, spicy, and sweet.  Thus was born this recipe which I am delighted to share with you!

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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Walnuts, and Raisins

I have two important things to say:

First, I try to always give credit where it’s due, which obligates me to credit this amazing salad to Julia, head chef at Haven’s Kitchen, even though I wish I could say that I came up with this one on my own.  A few Friday’s ago we were preparing food for a wedding rehearsal dinner, and while I was busy manning the deep fryer station – popping out zeppole’s, risotto fritters, and deep fried fingerlings to many hungry and happy diners – I noticed Julia making something amazing out of the corner of my eye.  I wasn’t too sure, but I was pretty sure I saw all of my favorite major actors: beautifully roasted cauliflower florets, chopped parsley, toasted nuts, plumped up raisins, and farro, one of my more recent grain obsessions.  After a few bites I knew I had to try and make some version of this salad, and I thought to myself, who better to make it for than my lovely mother, here on a visit from San Antonio?

Which brings me to my next important point: lunch with a fabulous lady!

Two champagne glasses and a hearty vegetarian meal = bliss!

Given my random work hours I was able to free up my Thursday and pull this together to have lunch with the leading lady in my life, my mama.  She loves vegetables and fruits like me, so I stewed up some roasted butternut squash soup with roasted wild mushrooms (yes that’s right, it’s sitting in the gorgeous Staub cocotte that my sister Yasmin bought for me for Xmas), roasted mushrooms on the side, and of course this yummy salad for which I’m about to give you the recipe.  And of course there is also champagne.  With my mother there will always be champagne.

Although we were quite stuffed after our lunch (there may have been some rolling and laying) we were both satisfied and felt that the salad had one of those magical abilities to fill you up yet make you feel lighter at the same time.

The recipe is for two, which is inevitable because of the size of cauliflower heads.  But it holds well for lunch or dinner the next day, and you can always make it to share with someone else, someone who is deserving of your amazing cooking!

With love,

Ashley

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Walnuts, and Raisins – Makes 2 servings

  • 3/4-cup farro
  • water or vegetable broth (amount varies according to farro package instructions)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2-cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons golden raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes (you can also soak in tea if you want to get crazy)
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley (save a few stems to cook with faro)
  • 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place faro in a small saucepan. Cover with water, and add bay leaf if using. Cook according to package instructions.
3. Meanwhile, remove cauliflower stalk and cut florets into small, 1/4-inch pieces (you want them to become roughly the same size as the farro).
4. Place cauliflower on a lined baking tray and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Roast until cauliflower is golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, tossing once halfway through roasting.
5. Place walnuts in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just starting to brown and become fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove bay leaf from cooked farro (if there is excess water in pot, drain farro in strainer).
6. In a bowl, combine farro, cauliflower florets, raisins, parsley and walnuts. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice from one half over salad. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil, toss to combine, and season with salt and pepper. Share with somebody you love or save the rest for lunch the next day.

>Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses

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Yesterday I encountered a new feeling, one I haven’t sensed since living in Paris.  Arriving back in town after 3 weeks in Boston with my family, I looked around at the familiar-looking buildings and streets, the ones that I have come to love and accept in my life like friendly neighbors.  Hoping to relive the excited, almost virginal appreciation for these structures that I felt upon my initial arrival in town, I instead felt a distant coldness emanating from these gorgeous Haussmanian constructs.  Maybe this harshness I sensed was the brutally cold weather that has overtaken Europe over the past few weeks, but I’m pretty sure it was more.  Coming back to Paris after a few weeks surrounded by people I love and know very deeply, I was a stranger in a strange city, and even the beautiful surroundings failed to make me feel at home.
I was confronted with a question I had managed to avoid during my last semester here – why did I move far away from everyone I care about and all of the places I know so well, only to live alone and struggle to make new friends, a new life, and a new daily routine? The answer is still unclear to me, but I know I thrived on the liberation I felt in coming to a country where I would be confronted with fresh eyes and new challenges like speaking a different language every day.  There is no past for me to worry about here, with an entirely new group of faces I see regularly and an unquestioning, uninquisitive crowd.  Whether the events of hurt and shame from days before really are worth my anxiety and time is of little importance; these moments have been skewed and morphed in my mind and memory as occurences of utmost consequence, which could easily help every glance in my direction to pass judgement based on mistakes I’ve made some unknown time before.  I’m sure I’ll come to terms with whatever is gripping me from before as time goes on and wounds are healed.  In the meantime, I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to live here and breathe in the newness and wonder of it all.  I’m having the time of my life in this beautiful city where I can bask in all the excitement and opportunity I see around me.
And what do I see most of the time?  During this winter season, it’s mostly broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, chestnuts, leeks, oranges, clementines, and pears.  In the springtime, I expect to see a much more varied array of raw ingredients which help to create sensations of elation and joy on the palate.  Today I went to my favorite place in Paris, La Grande Epicerie, and re-established my routine from last semester of pacing slowly around the store while making small talk with the vendors (pour se sentir de la joie de communiquer en français) and smelling various ingredients to inhale their freshness and understand their essence. 
For lunch I decided to showcase one of my favorite winter ingredients, brussel sprouts, which have a naturally nutty flavor, and when steamed long enough, are so tender and adorable it is hard not to make coo-coo eyes at them while on the plate.  This rendition is fairly low-cal, but certainly substantial enough for a light lunch.  I used 12 brussel sprouts, which was enough for me, but I think I could have even used up to 16-18 and I wouldn’t have felt too full.  Also, please take the cheese measurements liberally – feel free to increase the amounts to 3 tablespoons if you’d like something richer and creamier.  Thanks, and enjoy!
Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses - serves 1

1 tbsp olive oil
12 brussel sprouts (you can use more or less, but this is a pretty good base number)
1 small fistful of pine nuts
1 small fistful of golden raisins (dark ones are fine too)
1 1/2-tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1 1/2-tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1.  Wash and dry the brussel sprouts.  Cut off a bit of the stem, and split each brussel sprout in two.  In a medium bowl, toss the brussel sprouts with the olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt, and pepper. 
2.  Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the brussel sprouts, cut-side down, cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or the sprouts are slightly softened (test firmness by piercing with a fork).  Turn them over, and continue cooking over medium heat, covered, until the brussel sprouts can be easily pierced with a fork, about 5-6 minutes longer.
3.  Add the pine nuts and raisins.  Sautee until pine nuts are lightly toasted and raisins are softened, about 4 minutes.
4.  Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the two cheeses over the sprouts.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.