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Sweet and spicy for your valentine
Remember when you and your main squeeze were mostly about being playful, flirtatious and romantic with each other? And remember when the kids and the responsibilities of life itself took over, front and center? Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity to make love and romance a priority and encourages us to be as over-the-top gushy as possible. Tune out any boring cynicism you might hear from the closed-hearted about Valentine’s Day being a commercial Hallmark holiday. Love and romance deserve to be celebrated.
Instead of stressing out over what restaurant to eat at, or spending extra money on babysitters, or paying the big bucks for those special Valentine’s Day menus and having to deal with the designated 1st and 2nd seating times, I suggest preparing a special dinner at home that doesn’t have you working in the kitchen for most of the evening. Don’t forget, being loving to ourselves is extremely important, too.
One of the most nutritious things to feed those you love is salmon for its heart-healthy high level of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also something that can be cooked in a short amount of time. Gotta love that part! A perfect place to purchase salmon is Freshy’s Seafood Market, located on the southwest corner of 76th and 24th — right in the center where the old 76 gas station used to be. Bryce, the owner, told me he has some good buddies who are fishermen, which is a big advantage for him and for us. The seafood at Freshy’s is sustainable, locally grown and freshly caught. Their crab, taken right out of one of the live tanks in the store, is cooked and shelled daily. They prepare fresh (not canned) crab and shrimp cakes every day as part of their take-out selection. Another great thing about Freshy’s is that Bryce stocks an assortment of things like pasta noodles, sauces, soups, lettuce, fresh bread, wine, seasonings and other items that make Freshy’s Seafood Market a one-stop-shop for healthy and delicious meal preparation.
Fresh King Salmon with Raspberry Sauce
2 - 2½ pounds fresh king salmon fillets, sliced into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups frozen raspberries (thawed)
½ cup Mirin (sweet Sake cooking wine)
1 shallot clove (minced)
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more to kick up the heat)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the top rack 6 inches from the heat element and place the other rack in the middle. Rinse the salmon well under cold water; pat dry. Line a non-metal baking dish with foil. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar; pour into the baking dish and place the salmon, flesh side down, to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour. Halfway through, turn over and marinate with the skin side down.
To prepare the sauce, place the raspberries, Mirin, shallots, honey, ginger, cayenne pepper and salt in a small sauce pan, uncovered, over high heat. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce gets above a simmer, reduce the heat to low. Then place in a blender on high for about 20 seconds. Rinse the pan and pour the sauce back in through a strainer. You will have a cup of sauce. Return to low heat and whisk in the 2 tablespoons of butter and adjust the seasoning if needed. Keep warm on low heat while cooking the salmon. You can also prepare this sauce a day ahead and reheat.
To cook the salmon, first remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to cooking. Spoon some of the marinade over the fish and season with salt and pepper before placing on the middle rack at 400 degrees for 10 minutes per inch of fish. If your salmon is 1½ inches thick, cook for 15 minutes; 2 inches thick, cook for 20 minutes. Afterward, you can turn on the broiler and finish on the top rack for a minute to crisp up the top. It’s always better to undercook than overcook salmon. Remember that it will continue to cook even when you remove it from the oven. Allow the fish to rest for a few minutes while you plate the sauce and add whatever else you’re serving along with it. I suggest short grain brown rice or creamy polenta, along with steamed baby bok choy tossed with olive oil, a little salt and toasted sesame seeds. Place the salmon on the sauce and drizzle a little more over the top.
I will use any reason to eat dessert, especially a decadent one for Valentine’s Day — anything less wouldn’t be right. A dessert I just love is crème caramel because it’s smooth and silky. I’ve changed things up a bit by making a more intriguing version with seductive dark chocolate and a smooch of exotic chai spices. This is definitely not your mama’s baked custard. For the best flavor, I prefer to use high quality chocolate bars found in the candy section of grocery stores. Another loveable thing about crème caramel is that it’s best when prepared a day in advance, so it’s thoroughly chilled by the time you serve it, giving you more precious time to cuddle with your Valentine.
Chocolate Chai-Spiced Crème Caramel
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 ounces semisweet chocolate (chopped well in the food processor)
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground all-spice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large pot of water for the water bath that the custards will bake in, if you don’t have an instant hot at your sink. Have a large roasting pan ready, one that can hold all the ramekins with space in between them. Prepare six 6-ounce ramekins by coating them lightly with vegetable oil.
For the caramel, place the 2/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small sauce pan; stir just to mix, then leave it alone and bring to a boil on high heat for about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch it very carefully. The caramel is done right when it turns golden brown in color. Any darker and it will taste bitter, so watch closely. When it’s ready, remove from the heat and evenly distribute into the bottom of each ramekin. Please be extra careful when doing this step because the caramel will be hotter than Hades.
Place the milk into a small sauce pan with the cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, all-spice, ginger and black pepper. Heat on high just as it’s about to boil, then turn off the heat and allow the spices to infuse the milk for about 2 minutes. Add the ground chocolate, stirring until it thoroughly melts.
Beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar; stir in the vanilla extract. Temper the eggs by first adding about ¼ cup of the milk mixture to the egg mixture, and blend well; stir in another ¼ cup before blending in the remaining amount. Pour through a sieve and distribute evenly into the ramekins. Place them in the roasting pan with space in between. Slowly pour hot water in the pan so it’s up half the sides of the ramekins, careful not to splash any on the custards. Bake for 35 minutes, until set. Remove and cool before covering and placing in the refrigerator to chill for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.
To plate, run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen, dip the bottoms in a small bowl of very hot water for about a minute, then place a plate upside down over the top and invert it. The caramel will spill over the sides. For an extra sinful touch, top with freshly whipped sweetened cream.
Enjoy and may Cupid’s bow shoot arrows of love into your heart this Valentine’s Day!