Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip


Smoked salmon is one of those foods that polarizes people. You either love it or hate it. I happen to fall into the former category. I love smoked salmon for its high omega 3 content, its smoky flavor, its chewy coolness, and the way it slices so clean with a sharp knife.

Is that not sooooo satisfying to watch?


My husband, on the other hand, falls into the “hate-with-the-heat-of-a-thousand-burning-suns,” “vomit-vomit-vomit” smoked salmon camp.

It’s ok. I get it. It’s an acquired taste–and even more so, and acquired texture. (Is that a thing, “acquired texture”? That’s going to be my new phrase for velour jumpsuits and those reversible sequin unicorn pillows my 7-year-old adores.) Anyway, it’s all right if the cold-and-clammy texture of raw fish doesn’t appeal to you. But I think there’s still hope for you to like smoked salmon in the form of this delicious Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip. 


Yea, verily. 

Although the signature taste of smoked salmon comes through in this appetizer, its usual fishy texture is nowhere to be found, pulverized into oblivion by your friendly food processor. What’s left, when blended with cream cheese, lemon juice, horseradish, fresh dill, chives, and a few other simple ingredients, is a creamy, herby dip that’s perfection on butter crackers, crudités, or as a spread on toast.

Since my husband and kids aren’t fans of smoked salmon in any form, I’ve been powering through an entire batch of this by myself this past week, and I am not mad about it. Now that we’re a couple of days into Lent, which means no meat on Fridays for me, I plan to make it again as a staple for a light lunch. But it would serve just as well in a brunch, a classy baby shower buffet, or as a pre-dinner appetizer. 



So how about you? Where do you stand in the Smoked Salmon Debate? And do you think this tasty dip could change your mind? Let me know in the comments!

Print Recipe
Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip
A creamy, herb-y dip packed with brain-boosting omega 3s. It's perfect on butter crackers, crudités, or toast!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as an appetizer
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as an appetizer
Instructions
  1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until well blended and consistency reaches your liking. Serve with crackers, fresh vegetables, or on toast or bagels. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Valerie's Kitchen.

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Cauliflower Steak Sandwiches with Garlic-Lime Aioli

Cauliflower is, as they say, “having a moment.” More accurately, it’s having a decade. Everywhere you look, cauliflower versions of food products have cropped up in the last few years, whether it’s cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza crust, or cauliflower cake. (Yes, really.) Apparently our national fear of carbs and/or gluten has driven us to conclude that cauliflower is the miracle vegetable that will save our dietary souls. I’d say this tweet I saw this morning pretty well sums it up:

 

I haven’t jumped on the cauliflower bandwagon (I still think bread and potatoes have their own nutritional benefits), but cauliflower does boast plenty of nutrients of its own, including fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. So bear with me as I add to the Cauliflower Conversation with these Cauliflower Steak Sandwiches with Garlic-Lime Aioli. I think you’ll forgive me when you taste them.

Cauliflower steak sandwiches have actually been on my mind for about six months. Back in February, our family took a trip to Disneyland. At the Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland (formerly the Village Haus pizza restaurant) I was trying to be healthy and ordered the Enchanted Cauliflower Sandwich.

And it ROCKED. MY. WORLD.

As described on the menu, it’s a “grilled cauliflower steak, spicy lime aioli, tempura-battered green beans, lettuce and tomato on a toasted roll.” But the description doesn’t do justice to the amazing combination of flavors and textures this plant-based dish had to offer. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. Ever since, I’ve wanted to re-create it at home, but couldn’t find any copycat recipes online.

Sooooo I had to make my own. I started with roasted cauliflower steaks (I don’t grill; it’s my personal cooking Waterloo)…and seasoned them with lemon juice, olive oil, and red pepper. These cauliflower cross-sections emerge from the oven crispy and sandwich-ready.

From there, whipping together a chili-garlic-lime aioli wasn’t too complex. Added to a toasted ciabatta bun with lettuce, it totally fulfills my Fantasyland-inspired craving. (I will admit, though, that I haven’t gone to the trouble of making tempura-battered green beans like the Red Rose Taverne. I do enjoy putting Snapea crisps on top, however!) Now I don’t have to go all the way to Disney for my favorite sandwich.

But I think I’ll keep going anyway. 😉


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Cauliflower Steak Sandwiches with Garlic-Lime Aioli

Inspired by the Enchanted Cauliflower Sandwich at Disneyland's Red Rose Taverne, this copycat makes a tasty plant-based lunch or dinner.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes

Servings


Ingredients
For the cauliflower steaks:

For assembling the sandwiches:

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes

Servings


Ingredients
For the cauliflower steaks:

For assembling the sandwiches:


Instructions
Make the cauliflower steaks.
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice cauliflower head lengthwise through the core into 4 slabs. (It helps to leave a bit of the core on to hold them together.) Place on greased baking sheet.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Brush this mixture on the upward-facing side of the cauliflower. Roast for 15 minutes.

  3. Flip cauliflower steaks and brush the other side with remaining olive oil mixture. Continue roasting another 20 minutes or until browned around the edges.

Meanwhile, make the aioli.
  1. In a measuring cup, combine all aioli ingredients and mix with an immersion blender (or whisk vigorously) until well combined.

Assemble the sandwiches.
  1. Assemble to your liking with cauliflower steaks, aioli, lettuce, and tomato on the toasted ciabatta rolls.


Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food original recipe, cauliflower steaks adapted from Allrecipes.com.


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Stetson Chopped Salad

If you follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook, you may have seen this picture before. (And if you haven’t liked my Facebook page yet, I’d be most honored if you would!) A few days ago was my birthday, and as an avid–or obsessive, depending on how you look at it–home cook, I typically would rather make something truly spectacular at home for my birthday dinner than go out. This Stetson Chopped Salad was THE ONE dinner I knew would be birthday-worthy this year.

What is a Stetson Chopped Salad? (And who in their right mind chooses a salad for their birthday dinner?) Well, in the Phoenix area, the Stetson is a local food celebrity. It’s pretty impressive for any salad to attain celebrity status, but somehow, sometimes, it happens. After all, you’ve heard of Cobb, Waldorf, and Wedge. These famous salads are like the old Hollywood starlets of healthy American cuisine. Classic, standard, glam. The Stetson Chopped Salad, on the other hand, is like the up-and-coming Western girl hitting the big time. Its humble origin lies with Cowboy Ciao, a restaurant located, appropriately, on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale.

A few years ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served a homemade version of the Stetson. It was an edible work of art, with a taste no less extraordinary than the presentation. But we definitely found ourselves in “why-do-these-flavors-go-together-this-makes-no-sense” territory. Who the heck thought of putting sweet (dried currants) with savory (corn and tomatoes) with smoked salmon and a creamy basil dressing?

IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE.

But trust me, there’s a reason this salad is famous. You just have to go with it. And when you do, you’re gonna be like…

Even when my husband and I eventually ate at Cowboy Ciao and of course ordered the “real” restaurant version, it didn’t quite compare to the one our friend had made. (She is a trained chef, so that probably helped.) With this memory in mind, I made my own birthday version, and it was indeed an awesome mix of flavors, textures, and visual appeal. Definitely a salad worth choosing for a special occasion.

Oh, and the other reason I chose salad for my birthday? Cause I knew this was coming afterward!

Raspberry Almond Layer Cake for dessert definitely rounded out the birthday meal experience. 🙂


Print Recipe
Stetson Chopped Salad
You'll be amazed at how this unusual combination of flavors makes for a totally crave-worthy salad!
Instructions
Assemble the salad:
  1. Spread arugula leaves evenly on a large, flat platter. Cover with layered rows of couscous, salmon, pepitas, sweet corn, cranberries, and tomatoes.
Make the dressing:
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a measuring cup and mix with an immersion blender until smooth.
  2. Mix salad tableside, if desired, and serve with dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

Based on this recipe from Key Ingredient.

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Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

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Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
Instructions
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce

Cajun lemon tilapia

As a practicing Catholic, my observance of Lent began yesterday on Ash Wednesday. Like most Catholics, I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. No one likes sacrifice, which is exactly what this pre-Easter season is all about, but despite our sometimes begrudging feelings about it, we all can benefit from setting aside some of our own desires for awhile. As I like to remind myself, the hard things are usually the things worth doing.

For my Lenten sacrifice this year, I decided not to go with anything to do with my eating or drinking habits. (After last year’s “giving up” wine turned into a total failure.) This time I’m limiting my screen time, including not watching any TV or movies and not using my phone for any purpose while driving. It may sound like a small “sacrifice”–and really, it is–but even a day and a half in, I’m pleased with this choice because it has to do with my use of time, an area in which I’m constantly striving for balance. My former priest used to say “fast so you can pray,” meaning “give something up that will move you to pray.” And certainly giving up TV and movies and cutting back on my attachment to my phone will give me extra time in my day–time I can spend on other, more important priorities like prayer, studying for my upcoming nutrition licensure exam, or reading.

However, is it just me, or is the first week of Lent the absolute hardest? I can’t tell you how many times in just the last 36 hours my brain has tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Hey, you know what’s a great movie? Hey, you know what show I really want to watch?”

GET OUT OF MY HEAD, BRAIN!

Fridays, as all Catholics know, are the same way when it comes to the whole don’t-eat-meat issue. Saturday through Thursday you could be like those “women laughing alone with salad.” (Have you heard of this? It’s a whole thing on the Internet about how often you see pictures of women laughing alone with salad in marketing photos.) But come Friday it’s like…

betty white hot dog

Yes, I did make this Betty White Eating a Hot Dog meme myself. You’re welcome. 

But I have good news! Fridays during Lent (if you do Lent) don’t have to be meatless misery. This Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce is an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree to help curb those Friday cravings. And if you don’t do Lent, it’s still an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree for any day of the week! Cajun-seasoned tilapia topped with zesty lemon slices and paired with a creamy dill sauce make for an irresistible combination. I especially love to serve it over couscous with a side of steamed broccoli.

So…do you observe Lent? Or if you don’t, have you ever had and experience where self-sacrifice provided personal growth? I’d love to hear your encouragement, because I really want to watch some Netflix right now.

Cajun lemon tilapia

Print Recipe
Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce
Spicy Cajun-seasoned tilapia combines with a cool and creamy dill sauce in this easy fish recipe.
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of tilapia fillets with Cajun seasoning and salt and pepper. Place in prepared baking dish and top with lemon slices. Bake 12-16 minutes, depending on size and thickness of fillets, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve alongside the fish.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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