Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Salmon Croquettes, a southern classic

Go to any traditional southern brunch location (like Rick’s in Greenwood, SC), and you’ll find salmon croquettes on the menu: a delicious salmon cake deep fried and served over grits.

You see, most folks only hear about shrimp and grits as the classic Charleston breakfast (or any other time) dish, but salmon and grits is far more common and delicious. The restaurants don’t bother to “put their own spin” on salmon and grits like they do with shrimp (usually ruining a simple shrimp and gravy dish).

Plus, this is one of my grandmother’s classics, a special dinner treat, usually when it’s just us girls. So as I make these little fish cakes tonight, I will set aside a couple to take to her to enjoy.

The Menu: Salmon Croquettes, Dijon Roasted New Potatoes, Braised Spinach

First, I’ll get the potatoes ready and in the oven. The Dijon Roasted New Potatoes is a recipe right out of the Weight Watchers Weekly this week, but for those who don’t participate, here it is:

  • Quarter or halve 1.5 lb new potatoes; we leave the skin on, but that is up to you.
  • Whisk together 2T Dijon mustard, 1t olive oil, 3/4 t paprika, 1/2t salt, 1/4t thyme (I use more cuz I love it!), 1/4t pepper; toss the potatoes in this dressing.
  • Bake at 425 for 15 minutes; then stir them well and bake for 15-20 minutes more until they are tender (stick ’em with a fork!).
  • Tip: if they aren’t crispy enough for you, spray them with a little cooking spray and put them back in for a couple of minutes.

Makes 4 1.25 cup servings at 4 PointsPlus each.

With the potatoes in the oven, it’s time to mix up and form the Salmon Croquettes. Here’s how it goes, with attention to getting the mixture to hold together rather than exact measurements:

  • 2-3 cans of salmon, drained (about 1 lb)
  • 1/3 cup of cornmeal (for coating only; for GF, substitute rice flour)
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten before you pour it into mixture (yes, that is important when you use egg as binding)
  • 1/2 cup very finely diced onion
  • 1T Worchestershire sauce (make your own GF/CF/SF with this recipe)
  • 1T lemon juice
  • splash of Tobasco sauce
  • salt and pepper, as you like it
The main ingredients: salmon and onion

Mix this all together with your hands; yes, that is an essential part of making these. You can’t know if the mixture is at the right consistency if you can’t feel it. The mixture will be “tacky” when you make a ball in your hand, but will not actually stick. It’s also very important that when you roll it into a ball and then flatten it into a patty that the “stuff” sticks together easily, without you having to push it back together. If it’s too loose (wet) or to thick (dry),  it will all fall apart in the skillet and just become salmon hash, sort of.

When you’ve got your mixture just right (with a slight, wet squishing sound when you squeeze it into a ball), form eight 4 oz patties; if you’re not actually weighing these, this will be about a small 2-inch ball of mixture in your palm. Roll the mixture into a ball and then flatten the ball into a patty, lightly patting the edges into shape if needed.

Dust each patty in cornmeal, very lightly. This is optional as some don’t like the gritty coating. An alternative for helping them not stick to the skillet is to dust them with rice flour, which will not create a coating like regular wheat flour does.

Smoking away in a cast iron skillet

Now the original recipe calls for deep frying, which is wonderful and delicious and easy, but completely unnecessary. Just spray a skillet with cooking spray to prevent smoking and cook the patties over medium high heat for about 4 minutes on each side. Since the salmon is already cooked, you are focused on cooking the egg and the onions and heating the whole patty through for great flavor. You may also choose to bake the patties on a cookie sheet at 350 for 20 minutes.

As I put on the patties to cook in the skillet, I’ll start the final dish of Braised Spinach. For this, you’ll need

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or diced or sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 large bag of spinach, baby or regular as you like
  • really good balsamic vinegar (should be sweet and syrupy)*
Braising the spinach…don’t stir!!!

Heat the garlic on medium in just a touch of oil (or use cooking spray); raise the heat to medium high and cook the red onions until soft and lighly carmelized. Pack the spinach into the pan, salt and pepper the pan, shove on a tight lid, and shut off the heat; this will wilt the spinach, and takes just about 3 minutes. Remove the lid, stir just a little to toss everything together and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

 

Weight Watchers PointsPlus:

  • Salmon Croquettes (makes 8) = 2 points each
  • Dijon Roasted New Potatoes (makes 4 servings) = 4 points per serving
  • Braised Spinach (makes as many or few servings as you like) = 0 points
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Cooking Four Dinners at Once

 

 

Rich with aroma and flavor…a dense, satisfying dinner!

My dilemma:

No one in my family eats the same thing, which makes dinner prep sometimes challenging. One of my family does not eat salmon, which means any time I cook salmon, I have to also cook some other major protein for him.  Tonight, chicken is the compliment. Luckily, I’m in the mood for a preparation that I can use on both: oven poaching. Another eats only certain carby dishes and no veggies, while I want to keep a good balance of carbs and veggies. And, guess what, I can and will do this with only three dishes: 1 entree (2 meats), 1 carby side, and 1 veggie side.

Okay, the game plan:

    1. poached salmon and poached chicken breast (both currently frozen)
    2. potatoes au gratin (Betty Crocker box mix)–for the boys
    3. frozen peppers and onions sauteed with some fresh onion and purple cabbage over egg noodles–for the girls

Step 1. Put the fish and chicken out to thaw…or not. Since oven-poaching is the regular person’s way of saying steam or even en papillote, you have probably done this before…with frozen meat since the water and juices help with the cooking.

Light and fruity

Step 2. Choose a flavor combo. This will determine the liquid and herbs you use throughout the meal, but most importantly in the pan or baking dish with the fish/chicken. Tonight, I have decided to finally open and use one the bottles of Rose Merlot I recently purchased on my trip to Long Island to visit Rachel, Al, Carter, and Samuel. Rachel and I have always made at least one of our visit days a Long Island vineyard day. This past November, I found this Rosé Merlot at Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island; Palmer can ship wines to the following states: AK,DC,IA,ID,IL,MN,MO,NH,NY,OH,RI. With the lightness and fruitiness of this wine, I will pair the classic Herbs de Provence, a combination of thyme (dominant), fennel, savory, basil, and lavender (only in the US).

Alternative combos that I like:

  • lemon juice and basil/oregano/garlic
  • balsamic vinegar and garam masala (or curry and coriander)
  • pineapple juice and cayenne pepper
  • soy sauce and ginger/dry mustard
  • apple juice and all-spice (think pork chops that will be paired with butternut squash or pumpkin

 

You can barely see the wine, but it’s there, with a liberal dusting of herbs de provence. That’s two boneless breasts, two bone-in thighs, and two bone in legs

Step 3. Prepare the poach.

Since the salmon and chicken will need different cooking times, I use two 9×9 baking dishes. Since most of the liquid bases are acidic (I guess you could use water?), I try to use glass or ceramic baking dishes, but if I have to use a metal one (because everything else is dirty), then I am careful to line it with aluminum foil so that the acid doesn’t leech anything out of the metal and into my food.

Simply pour in about 1/4-inch of liquid. For a 9×9 pan, this is usually about 1/3-1/2 cup of liquid. Place the meat in a single layer in the dish (yes, touching sides is okay) and season as lightly or liberally as your palette desires.

Cover the dish very tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees: salmon for 30 minutes, chicken for 40 minutes.

NOTE: this is a fantabulous way to cook just one meal at a time and cut down on dishes to wash. Just prepare your one piece of meat in a parchment or aluminum foil pouch, no pan at all.

Step 4. Set water to boil on the stovetop and get crackin on the Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin. Sure, I can and do make these from scratch, but I have a 6:30 meeting tonight, and my family doesn’t care if it comes out of a box.

Noodles in the back, veggies and potatoes in the front

Now, the directions offer both oven and stovetop directions; I am choosing the stovetop preparation tonight because the oven temp and cooking times vary so significantly for the meat and potatoes that one or the other would be…well, yucky, to be technical. The stovetop directions require only boiling time and 15 minutes of simmering. And since I’ll already be at the stove doing the veggies (coming up next), it’s an efficiency of effort that I can’t pass up.

So, Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin, prepared just as the directions say. Once you get to the simmering step, you should be ready for the next step.

Step 5. Drop the egg noodles into the other pot of boiling water and cook just as your package’s directions say…around 8-10 minutes. Go ahead and set up the strainer in the sink now.

Step 6. Drop your veggies into the skillet with just a drizzle of olive oil. Fresh veggies go in first since they need a little more softening; the frozen ones were blanched before freezing, so they only need to thaw. Tonight I’m using fresh onions and carrots. And I’ll let them just sit still in the skillet for a few minutes with their salt and pepper and herbs de provence sprinkle, until I’m convinced they are getting a little soft…and they start to get a little brown…not actually carmelized but just a hint of starting. That’s when it’s time to drop in the frozen peppers and onions and pop the lid onto the skillet. Trap in the heat and let the water from the frozen veggies steam the combo with the lid on. Chop up the purple cabbage ( just a quarter head we had leftover from cole slaw a few weeks ago) and drop it on top at the last minute. Snap the lid back on for about 3 minutes…and you’re done.

I like to mix my noodles and veggies in the skillet together, but if you need to keep them separate for pickiness sake or figuring out nutrition, you can mix them on your plate.

My plate…a little bit of everything…with the leftover chicken ready for tomorrow night 🙂

 

All done. Ready to plate:

  • For brother: salmon and potatoes au gratin
  • For dad: chicken, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles
  • For mom: salmon and veggies and noodles
  • For me: salmon, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles

That’s four specialized dinner plates making four people happy and full coming out of one 45-minute dinner preparation, which is pretty normal when you consider all the chopping and pulling out pans and stuff.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: for this meal, I’ll break down each item:

  • 3 oz poached chicken breast = 3 points
  • 3 oz poached salmon = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup egg noodles = 4 points
  • veggies = FREEEEEE!

So my dinner = 12 points