You win some, you lose some with Valentine’s dinner

Published 8:02 am Saturday, March 3, 2018

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sea Salt

— 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

— 1/4 cup brown sugar

— 1 tablespoons cracked black pepper

— 4 (6 oz.) salmon fillets

— 1/4 cup all-natural maple syrup

— 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

— 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

— 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine sea salt, brown sugar, and black pepper, mix thoroughly. Rub salmon with brown sugar mixture making sure to use all of the mixture. Let stand 30 minutes.

Combine maple syrup, mustard, and dill in a small mixing bowl, set aside.

Coat bottom of a baking pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place salmon in pan, and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes or until desired temperature.

Remove from baking pan, and drizzle salmon with maple mustard dill sauce.

Serve immediately.

Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic and Parsley

— 1 pound rigatoni or other tubular pasta

— 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

— 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

— 3 medium garlic cloves, minced

— 1-1/2 teaspoons salt

— Freshly ground pepper

— 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Boil the rigatoni in a large pot of salted water until al dente; drain and return the rigatoni to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, combine the oil, butter, garlic, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring often, until the garlic is softened, 1-2 minutes.

Toss the hot pasta with the olive oil sauce and parsley and serve.

Sarah Condley

We don’t go out on Valentine’s Day because it seems like restaurants are crazy on that holiday and, frankly,  we don’t want to fight the traffic or crowds.

We opt stay in and I cook one of Brad’s favorite meals, or at least one of his favorite dishes.

This year I decided I would fix his favorite meat: salmon. He loves that stuff. You can just about bet on him ordering salmon when he eats out. Not me. I don’t like it.

I also decided to fix his favorite vegetable: asparagus. Again, not something I was going to eat.

Instead, I would have leftover chicken from the night before along with some pasta with an olive oil sauce.

A couple of nights before the big event, I sifted through my “other meat” folder and found two recipes for salmon.

At lunch the next day, I headed to the grocery to pick up some salmon and asparagus. When I got to the meat counter, the only salmon I saw was farm-raised and Brad doesn’t eat farm-raised if he can help it.

Instead of looking around for other salmon, I asked one of the meat men and he told me there was some in the frozen case. I looked in there and saw how expensive Alaska sockeye salmon was.

I dug through every package looking for the cheapest, which would also be the smallest. But that didn’t matter since Brad was the only one who was going to eat it. The package I found was a little over $20 — wow! — but, hey, Valentine’s only comes once a year and Brad is worth it.

That evening I told Brad my plans for his Valentine’s dinner and let him decide which recipe I would fix. After looking over both recipes, he settled on maple roasted salmon with sea salt which came from the April 2012 “Cooking Light” magazine.

When I got home on Valentine’s Day, I pulled the salmon out of the refrigerator and read the recipe instructions.

To dirty one less thing, I oiled a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and placed the salmon in it. Then I mixed the rub together, I thought a tablespoon of black pepper was a lot, but figured the salt and brown sugar would cut some of the spiciness.

While the salmon rested, I prepared the asparagus for roasting. Then I wondered if we had any shiitake mushrooms growing and headed to Brad’s logs to take a gander. I found three little mushrooms I could roast with the asparagus.

It wasn’t quite time to put the fish in the oven, so I started preparing the pasta with olive oil, garlic and parsley (from foodandwine.com) as one of our side dishes.

I found several pasta with olive oil sauce recipes on the Internet. They were all basically the same. I settled on this one because it didn’t call for red pepper flakes (I don’t like spicy food).

Instead of rigatoni I used wheat spaghetti and I used dried parsley flakes because I didn’t have fresh.

As soon as the water started boiling and the spaghetti was in the pot, I put the salmon and the asparagus with mushrooms in the oven and started preparing the pasta sauce.

The sauce went together pretty easily. I just stayed with it, making sure the garlic didn’t burn. The sauce was ready before the pasta; so I turned the stove off and waited. When the pasta was done, I drained it, added it to the skillet and tossed it with the sauce.

About this time the salmon had been in the oven for 12 minutes. I had Brad test it to make sure it was the temperature he likes. He said it needed to go about three more minutes.

During that three minutes I mixed the sauce for the salmon. I put the maple syrup and mustard in a small dish, then chopped up some fresh dill. I picked that up at the grocery too since we don’t grow herbs and I thought fresh would be better in a sauce instead of dried. I mixed in the dill and poured it on the fish when it came out of the oven.

I put everything on the table, Brad said a prayer, and we were ready to eat.

Brad took one bite of the salmon and said, “It’s hot,” meaning it was spicy hot, not oven hot.

I asked if that was a bad thing and he replied, “Well, not really, it’s just really spicy. I like spice, but this is really spicy.”

I told him I thought a tablespoon of pepper was a lot, but I’d hoped the brown sugar would tame it down. Obviously it didn’t.

I told him it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he scraped the rub off. He said the maple/mustard/dill sauce helped but next time I probably should cut the pepper in half.

Brad couldn’t eat all of the salmon and he said it would be fine to have it again the next night as leftovers, so into the refrigerator it went.

As for the olive oil pasta sauce, we both liked it. It was light and the flavors weren’t overpowering. It went great with my leftover chicken.

Brad said I nailed both recipes, but after having the salmon a second time, he decided he’d rather not have it again. All that pepper in the rub was just too much.

In the end, only the pasta recipe is headed to my self-made cookbook.

I guess one out of two ain’t bad.

Sarah Condley is an amateur baker and chef who is compiling a cookbook of her favorite recipes.