Grilled Salmon with Herb-Yogurt Sauce & Warm Bacon-Beet Salad

Sometimes dinner comes together through the sum of the parts in the fridge and it ends up becoming this classic dish that you want to make again and again. As it turned out I had some leftover Turkey Bacon in the fridge, a beet in desperate need of attention, handful of spinach and salmon that I had just picked up.

I did not grow up eating Warm Bacon Salads, but when I discovered people did this to salad I was shocked and jealous. Bacon on salad? Fantastic. I have since make them from time to time, but the combination with beets was quite lovely.

Turkey bacon enhanced the sliced beets and the combo wilted the spinach. With a simple Grilled piece of Salmon an extra side seemed an order. Polenta comes together with ease and grace, needing just enough attention to require your occasional stir, but not so much you are trapped at the stove.

Of course the Grilled Salmon needed to compete with the Beet Salad without being overshadowed. So I mashed together some fresh herbs with lemon and whisked in plain yogurt. Drizzled on top of the salmon and viola! Weeknight dinner using up our fridge in all the best ways.

I started with the polenta, next the herb-cream sauce for the salmon, then the bacon-beet mess and as soon as I was able to let them beets steam, the salmon hit the grill.

I soak my polenta in milk prior as it gives it an extra boost of creaminess.

½ cup Medium-Grind Cornmeal (aka Polenta or Grits)
3/4 cup milk (anywhere from non-fat to half & half, depending on your preference)
2 cups chicken broth

Place the cornmeal in a small pourable bowl, cover with the milk and allow to soak for at least 15 minutes.

After the soaking, heat the chicken broth until just simmering. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the polenta with the milk, whisking rapidly until incorporated. Allow to come up to a simmer again. Reduce the heat if the polenta begins to sputter and spit at you (it is super itchy burning hot when it hits your skin- not pleasant). A low simmer is good for about 10-15 minutes until the polenta is to your desired thickness.

Warm Beet, Spring Onion & Turkey Bacon Salad

2 slices Turkey bacon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small beet, trimmed and peeled with a vegetable peeler
1 spring onion or leek, sliced thin
3 cups baby spinach
½ lemon
1 tablespoon Lemon Olive Oil (or 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil with 1 teaspoon lemon zest-combined)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add in the turkey bacon and a slight splash of olive oil. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side until it is your desired crispiness (I like my Turkey Bacon crispy as I find it to be dry & chewy otherwise- not a big fan of burnt though, so watch it!)

While your bacon is cooking, cut the beet into four chunks and then slice thinly- the thinner the slice the faster they will cook.

Remove the bacon once cooked through, add the remaining olive oil and sauté the sliced beets about 3-5 minutes tossing fairly consistently so there is an even flavor (aka fat) on each beet. Sprinkle with a slight pinch of salt, add in about ¼ cup of water and cover with a lid to steam slightly. Add more water, lid & steam until the beets are your desired tenderness. Once almost ready, toss in the spring onion slices and toss 2-3 minutes. Slice the turkey bacon thinly into pieces and toss in to the beets, tossing until just warmed and incorporated. Squeeze lemon juice all over it.

If enjoying separate from the Salmon & Polenta, arrange the Spinach Greens on each plate and toss the beets onto the greens until they wilt slightly. Drizzle the lemon olive oil on each plate, especially taking care for any spinach leaves untouched by the beets.

Basil-Mint Yogurt Sauce

1/4 cup basil (or about 6-10 leaves)
¼ cup mint (about 6-10 leaves)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons thick Greek yogurt

Rinse the basil & mint leaves and air dry. Tear into smaller pieces than place in a mortar with the lemon juice and salt mash them up with the pestle until shredded apart. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you mash it.

Alternatively, mince up the herbs and stir in a bowl with the salt and lemon juice, pressing the herbs against the side of the bowl to release the herbs flavors.

Once the herbs are minced or mashed into a lemon-salty-olive oil-y mess, stir in the Greek yogurt.

Simple Grilled Salmon
2 5-6 ounce pieces Salmon
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt and pepper, seasoned to taste

Rub the salmon with the olive oil or rub the grill with the oil where you will place the salmon. Season the salmon with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the grill to just below high heat. Place the Salmon flesh side against the grill. Grill for 2-3 minutes, loosen from the grill and rotate 90 degrees. Grill for another 2-3 minutes and then flip over sear skin side down for 2-6 minutes until the salmon is barely firm to the touch and slightly flaky.

To assemble the meal:
Place the polenta on one half of the plate. Arrange the spinach leaves on the other half, drizzle on the warm beets allowing the spinach to wilt and sigh slightly. Place the salmon in between and plop on the herb-yogurt sauce.


Grilled Italian Kebab Buffet

I love the idea of make your own ________ parties. We have had guests over for personalized pizzas, nachos, calzones, and more. I was dreaming about “make your own Kebabs” for months- before the snow had even melted making this party worthwhile enough to stand outside to put these lovelies together.

Finally we were able to arrange a medley of veggies cut into chunks on top of our blue checker tablecloth. Then I selected three different kinds of chicken sausage: Roasted Pepper & Garlic, Artichoke & Olive, and Spinach & Feta that I cut into large pieces. Any sausage could be used, but be sure that it is at least partially cooked or smoked, so you are able to cut it into chunks. Otherwise, it will just ooze out and you will be unable to thread it onto the skewers. Next I introduced huge chunks of polenta that I tossed in a bit of olive oil. We actually tried chunks of Ciabotta bread splashed in olive oil and they turned into sad, charred croutons. The Polenta is well worth it and delicious- make sure the chunks are at least 2 inches big.

And if you haven’t tried them Grilled- Radishes are amazing. Slightly charred outside with a center that turns from slightly spicy to intensely sweet- please try them!

After cutting everything up into chunks I let our guests do the work and then we grilled them just a few feet from the table. We waited for our Kebabs while munching on Salad and a simple Goat Cheese appetizer (blog posts soon!)

Be creative with your Kebab toppings. Please share any of your favorite variations in the comments section.

Grilled Italian Kebab Buffet
1 eggplant
1 red onion
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
8 ounces mushrooms
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1 bunch radishes
2-3 pounds Smoked or Partially cooked Chicken/Turkey/Pork Sausage
1 tube of polenta (yes- I cheated a bit, check out the amateur gourmet’s step by step instructions to make it from the cornmeal)
2 tablespoons olive oil (more or less)
Kebab Sticks- if wooden soak them at least 15-30 minutes just prior to threading

Wash and trim each vegetable. Cut the eggplants into chunks and sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the remaining vegetables. Cut the red onions and bell peppers into 1-2 inch chunks. Cut the yellow squash and zucchini into 1 inch rounds or 1 ½ inch half moons. Scrub the radishes and trim off the greens close to the base. No worries about the little tail root as it burns off quickly. After finishing the vegetables, rinse the eggplant and allow it to dry, shaking off the excess.

Slice the sausages into 4-5 pieces, about 1-2 inches. Cut the polenta tube into half long ways. Lay down flat and cut across into 2 inch half moon pieces. Toss with the olive oil lightly. If making the polenta from scratch, allow it to set in a narrow pan, such as a bread loaf pan. After it is chilled, cut into 2 inch+ pieces.

Arrange each item into a bowl or serving tray. Please keep the sausages separate.

Next, allow your crowd to mix and match and thread their own. Keep the kebab sticks in water on the table and allow people to scoop them out and get creative. If everyone starts or ends with a different vegetable they will be easier to keep them straight on the grill.

Grill for about 5-8 minutes on each side, rotating until the sausage is cooked through.

Now you may run into this same problem we did... we managed to make and eat too many kebabs. With the leftovers we threw the smaller pieces on to a kebab- see the red onions, pepper, and cherry tomatoes in the picture below on the stick. The larger pieces we just tossed on and hoped they wouldn't slip through.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Recently we were lucky enough to have my totally fabulous & beautiful 14 year old niece come visit for several days with her equally fabulous friend before they headed to Sing a Mile High Children's Choral Festival where they wowed us with their beautiful voices.

While they visited we did lots of cooking and they were both great sous chefs incredibly helpful and motivated. One of the first things we tackled were Homemade Tortilla Chips. This may seem overly ambitious, but hear me out, here are a few of our reasons for making these:

• Simple to make, Baked not Fried
• Cheaper than buying a bag of chips and the quality is much higher
• You can control the salt, oil, and seasonings = healthier
• You can make just enough- so you don’t end up devouring a bag in one sitting or a half finished bag that becomes overly salty crumbs or worse- stale! (we live in super-dry Colorado)
• They take less than 15 minutes to prepare a batch for 2-4 people
• The taste is much better than pre-made- fresher & made just to your taste buds!

I gave the girls a few quick guidelines and they were off and running… they made tons and we had the most amazing nachos that night. We each had our own glass pan and filled them with our own personal toppings. Which was great because my niece & husband can’t eat cheese, my niece’s friend is a Vegetarian and I personally wanted all the toppings.

The next day we took the leftovers and made Taco Salad- stay tuned for a blog post on that. I ran to the store for a few ingredients and came back to the girls cranking out a few more trays of tortilla chips.

The Recipe is almost more of a guideline as the experience can quickly become your own.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Start with a bag of corn tortillas- at least 5 per person.

In a shallow dish drizzle in 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil we use Coconut or Safflower Oil. FYI- I have tried olive oil and it was a bit too heavy.

Stack up the tortillas and cut into 6 wedges.

Dip one side of one tortilla wedge into the oil, press it into the next tortilla chip. Then dip the next side into the oil. Basically, blotting the excess oil onto the next tortilla wedge.

Keep this going until you have a slightly oil-y stack of wedges pressed together. Spread these out on a baking sheet.

Combine your choice of the following:
1-2 tablespoons smoky paprika
1-2 tablespoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons salt
1-2 teaspoons sugar (oh yes- highly recommend this!)
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper or chipotle powder
The zest of one lime

Just plain old salt (of course I would recommend a nice sea salt) works, too!

Lightly sprinkle your seasons of choice onto the chips. If you sprinkle from a distance well above the tray rubbing it between your pinched fingers it will lightly dust the chips without clumping.

Place the trays in the oven. This may be the only ‘tricky’ part. I have tried several different trays over the many times I have made these. Thicker trays mean the chips bake slower than on thinner trays. This is probably obvious, but it does make my recommendations for the actual baking times a bit of a challenge.

That being said; bake at 350 for about 5-9 minutes. Check them. Once they are just starting to crisp, flip them over and continue baking checking every 2-4 minutes- this is important as they can go from white to burnt in about 2 minutes. Trust me. I have thrown away many a delicious chip as I tested the theory that they will be fine without my attention.

Now- find your dips or your tortilla chip recipes and go crazy.

They can be made ahead and still served warm, here is how:
If you ‘under bake’ them, you can spread them on a baking sheet and blast them at 350 for 3-5 minutes just before serving.
Served hot they are even more amazing. To serve them hot, place a cloth napkin/towel in a basket. Fill with the hot chips and fold the cloth on top. This will keep the heat in a bit longer.

I am sure they do not last as long as store bought varieties. I can’t tell you how long, because we usually have eaten them all within 2 days. If you are actually capable of storing them seal them up and store cool.