Monday, January 11, 2010

Plain of Fancy

If you've ever watched Iron Chef or similar cooking-competition shows, you are probably impressed by the presentations and the often unconventional combinations of ingredients the contenders come up with. The innovations are a refreshing departure from the familiar meat-and-two-veg meals most of us are brought up on. The familiar, such as the roast beef, potatoes and gravy and peas here, are in the realm of "comfort food" we return to. But the unfamiliar, or the familiar put together in different ways, can be even more appealing. And it doesn't have to involve expensive ingredients or very complicated preparation. For example, consider the salmon dinner here. This is a salmon filet with blue cheese and blueberries. The baby potatoes are boiled, then seared and sprinkled with ground dried mushrooms. The asparagus is on a bed of bean sprouts. In the background is a very simple appetizer of tofu with soy sauce and a little ground ginger, sprinkled with chopped green onions.
I think we (men, women and children), should all learn as much as we can about how to prepare things from scratch, just as I think we should be able to tie our own shoes, build a fire, sew on a button or make good chocolate-chip cookies. But it does not mean I think we should always do everything from scratch just because we can. Watch the Iron Chef-type shows and you will see the featured chefs have assistants. There is a lot of chopping and blending and boiling and searing and such that takes a lot of time. And that's great.
But with this salmon dinner, for example, I used two pots--a small stainless saucepan with lid to boil, then sear the potatoes, and a small frypan with a lid to sear, then slow-simmer the salmon. The bean sprouts were simply rinsed and drained. The asparagus spears were individually flash frozen, so I "cooked" them by microwave for 30 seconds and sprinkled a little sesame oil on top. The potatoes were cut at quarters and about halfway through, boiled, then seared at high temperature with half olive oil and half canola oil, then sprinkled with salt and ground pepper and dried mushroom before serving. The salmon was also frozen, cut from a big slab. I sprayed the filet with olive oil and sprinkled the skin side with salt and pepper, squeezed a lemon and a lime over the top, then seared it skin-side down, adding a splash of white wine and covering, reducing the heat to simmer until it was done.
The "fancy" sauce is blue cheese, crumbled with a tablespoon of mayonaise (real, not salad dressing!), and a dribble of lemon juice. After spooning it over the salmon, I added several frozen blueberries. Yes, frozen.
The decoration is just salad herbs, a bit of red bell peper, and thin slices of the lemon and lime. It has the combination of eye appeal, color, texture, flavor variety, and healthful ingredients that all meals (ideally) should have, and cost perhaps $1 at most for the ingredients. I'd say that makes it almost qualify as "comfort food."