Grilled Salmon and Brie Panini

Going away for a long weekend also means getting away from my kitchen.  I spent this past weekend biking, walking, shopping and dining!  Dining at interesting new places, finding the favorite spot the locals go to, feeling pampered with fabulous food presented to me and no dishes to wash!

I prefer to order small plates of foods; a few appetizers, salad and of course a dessert!  And not necessarily at the same place.  I order an appetizer at one restaurant; move to another for their specialty appetizer and end with a dessert or gelato somewhere else!  So in one short weekend, I could basically hit a lot of restaurants!!   The way I see it, I never get stuffed, and I’m excited and inspired by every dish I taste.  Atmosphere is a big draw for me although a hole in the wall known for good food will bring me in too.

My dad would make us laugh as he would avoid restaurants with white tablecloths.  In his view, white tablecloths meant the overly priced restaurant, the overstated menu, over the top wait staff and high priced wine lists!  When I now see a white tablecloth, I am always reminded of him.  I guess his view has influenced my choice in places to dine as I seek out well prepared, authentic food.  Not trendy nor bland, but food with ‘personality’ and a place that allows me to leisurely enjoy good food, wine and conversation.

For lunch one day we stopped at a place I had seen before but never dined at.  Located off the main strip, down the “basement” stairs to a Pub like atmosphere.  We ordered a Salmon Panini.  They prepare it with smoked lox, but we both agreed making this with grilled or roasted salmon was the way to go.  And so of course, upon returning home, I’m ready to head back in my kitchen and re-create the favorites we ate.  Leftover roasted or grilled salmon would make this an easy dish for using up the leftovers; however, starting from scratch I made a simple roasted salmon filet and whisked together a light dressing.  One pound of salmon would make four generous Paninis.

Grilled Salmon and Brie Panini

For the salmon:

1 pound wild caught salmon, skin removed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Olive oil

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons mayo

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Juice from one lemon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To assemble the sandwich:

Grilled or Roasted Salmon


Thinly sliced red onion

Mixed lettuce greens

Thinly sliced tomato

Whole wheat bread or ciabatta

Olive oil

For the salmon:  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.   Place salmon on a lightly oiled roasting pan.  Generously sprinkle the salmon with the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper.  Roast until just opaque in the center, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

For the dressing:  Whisk together the mayo, Dijon, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper and set aside.

To assemble the sandwidh: spread dressing on the bread, layer on mixed greens, salmon, thinly sliced onions, tomato and brie. Lightly brush outside of bread with olive  oil and place on grill pan or Panini press.  Grill until lightly browned and cheese has begun to melt.  Slice in half and serve immediately.

Dark Chocolate and Cherry Merlot Brownies

Long, lazy holiday weekends, how I adore thee!  This weekend I plan on taking off an extra day stretching out to four days of relaxation!  I wish I could say total relaxation as I know there is always something to do around the house!  It is actually difficult for me not to do something!  That’s why I love to have guests over!  Sure there is prepping to do but to me that’s fun work!

Casual cookouts are easy on the host and make everyone feel comfortable and happily fed.  This weekend is not about fussing so I decided brownies are the way to go.  Not your mama’s brownies though but Dark Chocolate, Cherry, Merlot Brownies! I was inspired by Chef Pandita’s Chocolate Merlot Cupcakes.  I knew that the Champagne Cupcakes I’ve made in the past were always found to be irresistible, so why not Merlot and chocolate?    I saw a “healthy” version of brownies from the Cleveland Clinic Wellness site and well,  I know this is stretching it a bit, but they do say dark chocolate is good for you and red wine is good for you …. so why not combine them both!

Since we can’t live on chocolate and wine alone, so here are some of my ideas for the rest of my Memorial Day Menu:

Vegetarian Antipasto Platter

Bourbon BBQ Ribs

Roasted Red, White & Blue Potatoes with Pancetta and Gremolata

No-Fail Kale Caesar Salad

and for drinks, check out Rufus’  White Sangria

Dark Chocolate and Cherry Merlot Brownies

Adapted from the Editors of Cleveland Clinic Wellness

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour

¾ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup agave

1/3 cup cherry preserves, no sugar added

1/3 cup Merlot

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg

1 large egg white

¼ cup chopped dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper, coat with cooking spray.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Combine agave, cherry preserves, Merlot, oil, egg and egg white in another bowl and stir well until smooth.

Add wet ingredients to dry, mix until combined.  Stir in chopped chocolate.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cover with syran wrap.  Serve with a sprinkle of cocoa powder or confectioners’ sugar.  Makes 16 brownie squares.

No-Fail Kale Caesar Salad

My family and close friends definitely know my love (obsession) with cookbooks.  At times, I know they hesitate to purchase “yet another cookbook” for me, however, I am never disappointed in opening a gift to discover a new cookbook!  In fact, from that moment of first opening the gift, I cannot wait to find a quiet moment to flip through all the pages!   I especially enjoy the cookbooks with history and stories of the origins of the recipes.  My Italian cookbooks are like travel guides to the place I dream to go to one day.

Recently my niece, Nina, heard about this cookbook, specifically popular for one recipe, and immediately took her mother (my sister) to check it out.  And very soon after that, it arrived in my mailbox!  The cookbook, 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know is from the editors of Glamour Magazine.  It is truly a great first cookbook for young, single women or a new bride as it not only has easy recipes but also speaks to women as a guide for life.  The recipes have fun names; I particularly like the Seduction Pork Chops, He Stayed Over Omelet, Get Skinny Dip, Man Trouble Mojito, Bikini Season Baked Salmon, Hook Him Apple Pie….. I think you get the idea!  The book lacks photos which I don’t mind, but would probably be helpful for someone new to cooking.   

The No-Fail Kale Salad caught my attention as I have been attempting to find more ways to incorporate this highly nutritious veggie into my meals.  The fact that the salad needs to rest an hour with the dressing on it is actually a positive as this salad can be made ahead for a dinner party; not having to be tossed and prepared at the last minute.  In fact, I’ve eaten the leftovers the next day and they are still good, if not even better! 

By the way, I’m curious; does anyone know about this book and the specific recipe my niece wanted me to try??

No-Fail Kale Salad

Caesar-style salad with kale, pecorino cheese, and homemade croutons

Adapted from 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know

Juice of 1 lemon

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (to be divided, 4tb – 2tb)

2 garlic cloves, mashed

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (about 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper)

Red pepper flakes, generous pinch depending on preference of spice

4-6 cups loosely packed cups kale, preferably flat leaf purple kale – midribs removed and leaves thinly sliced

2/3 cup grated Pecorino Toscana cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano

1 small loaf ciabatta or other rustic bread cut into 1 inch pieces, about 1 cup

In a large salad bowl, whisk the lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, garlic, kosher salt and pepper.  Add kale and toss well.  Add 2/3 of cheese, toss again.  Rest salad for 1 hour in the refrigerator, the dressing will soften the kale and give it a romaine like texture.   

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the bread cubes with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.  Spread cubes on baking sheet.  Toast for 7 minutes or until golden brown.   Remove from the oven and cool.  After the salad has rested at least one hour, add the bread cubes, toss again and top with remaining cheese and serve.  Serves 4.

Espresso Martini Jello Shots

Jello shots bring back a lot of memories….mostly those I’d like not to recall  🙂   I was young, they were fruity, sugary and colorful.  Who could resist?  Need I say more??

Flash forward to adulthood.  I mean really, can’t we still have fun?  I served these at a cocktail party this past weekend; Espresso Martini Jello Shots.  I like to spice up my parties by adding in the unexpected, something different and whimsical.  More sophisticated for the adult palate; espresso coffee, espresso and vanilla vodka and Kahlua topped with whipped cream and a chocolate covered espresso bean!!

I made these in my Wilton silicon brownie pan.  They could be also made in little cups or an 8 x 8 baking pan and then cut out into little squares.  The cups would make them easier to pick up as they are a little wiggly but no one seemed to mind!

Espresso Martini Jello Shots

Adapted from Jello Shot Test Kitchen

1 cup brewed dark roast or espresso coffee, cooled

2 ½ envelopes Knox gelatin

1/3 cup espresso flavored vodka

1/3 cup vanilla flavored vodka

1/3 cup Kahlua

1 teaspoon agave or simple syrup

Prepared whipped cream

Chocolate covered espresso beans

Prepare the mold or baking pan with non-stick spray.  If using the mold place it on a baking sheet that will fit into the refrigerator.

Pour coffee/espresso into small saucepan.  Sprinkle on gelatin and allow to soak for a minute or two.  Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the vodkas and Kahlua, stirring well.  Add agave or simple syrup to taste.  Pour into the mold, pan or cups.  Refrigerate until fully set, several hours or overnight.  Cut into squares or pop out of the mold and plate.  At serving time, top with whipped cream and an espresso bean.  Makes about 15-20 shots.

I’m Stuffed! Ciabatta Salad Sandwich

If asked for my preference as to how I like my pizza, it would be topped with a salad!  Crisp, mixed greens mounted on a hot slice of pizza.  I don’t often if ever eat it out this way, but my daughter certainly has seen me do this many times at home and I believe I have caught her piling salad on her pizza too!  I finally spotted it on a menu in an Italian restaurant which made me feel quite happy I wasn’t the only one enjoying pizza this way!

The same goes for sandwiches; I’m not a deli meat kind of gal.  Grilled veggie Panini’s are fabulous but when I’m not in the mood or have the time to grill, a salad in a sandwich is quick and easy.  The ingredients vary depending on what I have on hand, but the method does have importance.  Trying to eat a sandwich with loosely mixed ingredients can become quite a messy undertaking.  Therefore, after much trial, error and messy hands, I have perfected my salad sandwich making!

To begin with, I love ciabatta bread.  It crisps up nicely when lightly grilled and the airy pockets make it lighter, less doughy bread.  Still, I cut it not exactly in half lengthwise, about ¾ of the way up and will remove some of the bottom half bread inside to create a “shell or bowl” to fill up with the salad.   I spread pesto on the inside of both and grill or broil until lightly golden.

Slicing tomatoes and cucumbers is better for layering in the sandwich than using chopped veggies which will tend to fall out easier.  Mixed greens of all sorts, arugula, spinach, romaine, crumbled cheeses, artichokes, garbanzo beans, avocado, roasted peppers, etc, etc, are mixed with a light vinaigrette and piled inside.  Sometimes I will lightly broil the filled bottom half to softly melt the cheese and rewarm the top half.  The top should be gently pressed over the salad and cut into individual wedges just before serving.

Since there is no mayo in it, it’s great to wrap up and take on a picnic or bike ride!