Smokin' Chestnut

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne

Salmon over Arugula Pasta Salad

When I first saw this recipe, I had an instant vision in my head of how I would like it to look plated. This doesn’t usually happen when I see a recipe. Photographing our meal is often a poste-haste affair of me snapping photos of the plate in a few tried-and-true poses while my stomach is growling with hunger. This method typically yields mediocre results but I also can’t bear beautiful food to be left unphotographed.

But sometimes my brain has a plan. And for this recipe, that plan began with the loveliest flowering chives. So, armed with a couple of perfect purple puffballs and a few extra hours of sunlight, I shot a dish whose end result was as delicious as it was beautiful.

I hit the Perfect Dish trifecta with this recipe, too. It was delicious, it was filling and it was beyond gorgeous. It was also really, really easy but I wouldn’t have been able to use the word “trifecta” if I included that adjective, so I’ll just tack it on at the end. Plus, “easy” is always relative when it comes to me and cooking. Despite having cooked consistently now for 3+ years, I can still become frazzled in the kitchen. Case in point? This recipe.

It’s true that this recipe is very easy – make a rub for the salmon, broil salmon, then grab the rest of the ingredients and set them aside for assembly. However, I like to complicate things by attempting to do EVERYTHING at once, like boiling the pasta while the salmon is broiling while I also attempt to prep the tomatoes and slice the shallots. But broiling salmon can be tricky because it can easily overcook and I did not spend $6.99/lb (a steal, really) for salmon to overcook it.

So while the pasta was boiling furiously away and while the grape tomatoes, shallots and arugula all sat scattered atop my cutting board, I was yelling for Matthew to please come help me. He came in and decided to tackle a simple dijon mustard vinaigrette while I repeatedly (and perhaps over excitedly) stabbed the salmon with a fork to see if it was ready.

“It’s still raw in the middle!! The pasta is almost done and it’s still raw! What if it burns?! I knew I shouldn’t have broiled it!”

I then proceed to massacre the poor (already dead) fish, smushing it with my fork so that the heat could get access to the raw parts. It looked awful but I shoved it back under the broiler and stood up with a triumphant smile.

“THAT SHOULD DO IT!” I told Matthew, with probably a harried, crazed look in my eye.

At the time he was wondering why I was assaulting the salmon like that but one look at my face told him, correctly, not to say anything just then. Just Kristen being normal! I thanked him later for not questioning my brilliance/insanity. This is how marriage works, people!

So lay aside your fear of broilers – I’ll pretend the story I just told did not heighten anyone’s fear of them (or me) – and scrape together this dish for yourself, your family or your friends. The rub for the salmon should not be left out, either. I found the combination of lemon zest, ground cardamom and and kosher salt to be an incredible pairing with salmon.

Also, feel free to add any sauteed vegetables in place of the zucchini. You know me. I have a thing for adding zucchini to recipes .

Salmon over Arugula Pasta Salad
from Food Republic
serves 4

For the Salmon
1 1/2 pounds salmon filet
olive oil
zest of one large lemon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kosher salt

For the Pasta Salad
1 lb thin spaghetti
olive oil
grape tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
goat cheese
flowering chives (as edible garnish)
light vinaigrette

Preheat broiler. Place salmon on foil-lined baking sheet and paint each filet with olive oil. Combine lemon zest, ground coriander and kosher salt in a bowl. Rub mixture atop each filet and let salmon sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Cook pasta according to directions then drain, toss with olive oil and set aside. Place a skillet on medium-high heat then add sliced zucchini and a bit of olive oil. Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly browned. Set aside.

Broil salmon 4-5 inches away from broiler and cook for 8-10 minutes, depending on thickness of the filet. Check to make sure it does not overcook! Let cook slightly then remove and discard the skin.

Plate the dish however you deem fit – start with a plate of pasta then add flaked salmon, zucchini, arugula, grape tomatoes, shallot, goat cheese and flowering chives. Toss with a light vinaigrette if you prefer.

Then eat with restraint, because you never know who might be peeking their head over the table in hopes of a bite or two.

Mango Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing

I’ve made this recipe twice and each time it had a drastically different outcome (my fault, naturally). The first time was when I took these photos. Everything came together flawlessly, with a perfectly moist chicken breast and a ripe, succulent mango. The flavors in this recipe come together really, really well. You’ve got fresh herbs, a spicy dressing, salty peanuts and crunchy cabbage. It’s an exotic chicken salad that’s surprisingly filling. It’s also a perfect spring or summer dish.

That is, if you get it right. Overall, the recipe is very straightforward – cook chicken, chop vegetables, combine EVERYTHING and bam! You have a delicious dinner. But the second time I made this, everything seemed to go wrong. First, I overcooked the chicken when it was simmering in water (wandering off is not recommended). And you know what’s more unpalatable than overcooked, boiled chicken? Nothing.

Then came the mangoes. Sure, it was winter when I made this and sure, winter is not the Time of the Mango, but I thought it would be fine. No. The mango felt ripe but once it was peeled, the flesh was hard, stringy and tasteless. The color of its flesh was not a vibrant, rich yellow but a sad, jaundiced color. Appealing, hm? So I angrily chucked the mango and we ate the salad with overcooked chicken. Rookie mistakes.

And while not every meal ends perfectly, this one can if you don’t wander off while cooking the chicken or if you buy mangoes when they’re in season. Both times I made this salad I doubled everything so that we had leftovers. The salad holds up very well the next day.

Mango Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing
serves 2 (can easily be doubled)
from Design Sponge

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 medium sized Napa (or Savoy) cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small tomato, chopped
1 mango, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds
handful fresh mint, chopped
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
handful roasted peanuts, very roughly chopped

Spicy Ginger Dressing:
2 tsp freshly-grated ginger
1 Tbsp Sriracha sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/8 tsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients and whisk. Then add chicken, cabbage, carrots, tomato, scallions, sesame seeds, mint and cilantro to the bowl and toss gently. Serve in a bowl and top with sliced mango and chopped peanuts. Then be grateful you doubled the recipe so that you have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Quinta da Regaleira (Sintra, Portugal)

Did you know that not all vacations are spent in complete, all-encompassing bliss? Don’t get me wrong; most of our trip to Portugal was absolutely incredible. But there were times when I became homesick for our dog, I became sick-sick from the food (or lack of vegetables), and I became sick of traveling, period. Two weeks is a long time to be away.

Luckily those feelings of sickness were fleeting, but they can still leave you a little irritated at the world, or perhaps at your significant other when you’re supposed to leave for Sintra right after breakfast and all of the sudden you’re closing in on noon and you haven’t even left the hostel! So let’s just say part of the walk to the train station was tinged with huffy impatience, with me stalking ahead of Matthew until I ran out of steam (and my sense of direction). And thankfully, my feelings of irritation are always less of a slow burn and more of a swift flare, quickly replaced by forgiveness, acceptance or whatever happens to be in front of me.

Which was about to be Sintra.

Our last two days in Portugal were spent visiting this small little mountain town, which is only a 45-minute train ride away from Lisbon. We had just come back from Aveiro (which I have yet to post about but will one day…. maybe) and were excited to spend more time around Lisbon and in our awesome hostel. When we told Gui, the hostel’s expert sausage chef , that we wanted to visit Sintra, he told us to go to Quinta de Regaleira.

“I have been eight times with my family and we never get sick of it. I don’t even think we’ve seen all of it, either.”

Coming from a local, this sounded pretty good. I had a vague idea of what it was – some rich dude’s estate – but we figured we’d visit a bunch of other spots in Sintra that day. “We can do this all in one day!” Ha, very funny. Our first stop was lunch in Sintra – as it was past lunch time at this point and my hunger demon was threatening to rise – where we split some spaghetti and meatballs at an overpriced Italian restaurant on the square. We consulted our map and found out it would be an easy 20 minute walk to Quinta da Regaleira.

Before continuing, I have to say that this town revived me – and I mean that somewhat in the literal sense. After walking around too many crowded cobbled streets, each one lined with shops and tourists and people trying to sell us their wares, I yearned to be out in the country. I wanted to go hiking, to see something green, to be immersed in nature’s tranquil influence. To me, a New York City penthouse has nothing on cottage in the country.

And before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, I’ve just never been a city girl. So Sintra was balm to my travel-weary, sick-of-the-city self. I immediately fell in love with its damp, moss-lined streets, where many shops and quaint hotels sat idle in the off season. I could barely keep my enthusiasm down and practically tap-danced my way to our destination. I felt a burgeoning sense of excitement as we came closer and closer to Quinta da Regaleira.

I stood awestruck in front of the main palace while Matthew paid for our entrance to the grounds. It reminded me a bit of Hogwarts and I briefly entertained a vision of me in my first year robes, following Hagrid into the Great Hall and waiting to be sorted into GRYFFINDOR! Then Matthew materialized (or maybe he apparated?!) in front of me and I sadly snapped out of my reverie.

Sad until we started walking around millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro’s estate. He bought the 10-acre property in 1892 and commissioned Italian architect Luigi Manini to begin construction in 1904. By 1910, the elaborate estate was finished, with its winding trails and secret grottoes decorated with symbolic structures and statues.  Here ends your history lesson.

In between my ecstatic exclamations and stunned exhalations, I snapped photos and tried to capture the essence of what Quinta da Regaleira embodied to me. We wound our way through random paths that had no rhyme or reason to them, except to bring you somewhere that made your mouth drop open in awe. Matthew would check the map periodically while I raced around like a hyperactive, sugar-fueled child at Disney World. And if you saw me here, you would have to say that’s an accurate analogy.

We looked up at mossy castle turrets, smiled at each other, and then raced to climb each one’s slippery stairwells. One of them afforded us a view of Sintra far below, looking like some magical modern kingdom. This is probably close to reality, as I’m almost certain only very rich people can afford living in or around the town.

Matthew, who held the treasure map (as I like to refer to it), kept telling me something was coming up that would “blow my mind.” Sorry, my mind had already EXPLODED upon arrival, but I decided to humor him. So he attempted to guide my easily-distracted self – “What about this path?! Oh my gosh, look at the kitties! I love moss. I love moss!” – and my attention deficit brain towards this secret place. We came upon the structure below and Matthew ran inside so that I could take a photo of him behind the statue. To the right of the photo you can see a darkened entrance to somewhere unknown. Oh, the surprises it had in store. There was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel so we walked towards it.

And we ended up here, in the Initiation Well, modeled after the initiation practices of the Knight’s Templar. I stared at him and once I found my voice I kept saying “Oh my gosh. Look at this place! Oh my gosh… Look at – wow. Wow.” I had never seen or been to anything like it before. We were alone save for one lone man who was closer to the top of the well (and who could probably hear my inane and repetitive exclamations echoing up from below). There aren’t too many words to describe it all, so I’ll let the photos do what they were meant to do.

The photographer in me curses at some of these photos because I allowed parts of the wall to get in the way of a balanced shot. I wished I’d had a wide angle lens to capture some of the photos but all in all, I’m happy with most of the shots I took here.

A string of lights guided us towards a grotto, which eventually led us back into the open. It rained on us briefly, but we were well-prepared and pulled out our jackets. We happened to be passing by some gorgeous flowers so I switched to my 50mm lens and waited for the rain to die down a bit. The flower shots turned out pretty well and I wish I could grow that species here in Indiana. I also wish I had this entire estate to myself, but that won’t happen either.

The inside of the palace was pretty uninspiring. The entire upstairs was poorly-lit and each square room contained scraps of information about the history of the architect, the owner and the estate. I freely admit this portion of our journey did nothing for me, but that’s probably because A) it was inside an old, musty palace that didn’t photograph well and B) I have ADD when it comes to history lessons. However, this makes Matthew a perfect partner for me because as I was taking photos of the property, he would share little tidbits about the estate. In fact, he did this throughout the trip. Very helpful!

So, after passing from owner to owner in the mid-1900’s, Quinta da Regaleira is now considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There were a few pieces of furniture left in the palace’s first floor and the only thing that caught my attention was the enormous and elaborate door knocker to the main hall. I wanted it. And I still want it.

We eventually found our way back outside and, with the remaining time we had left before it started getting dark, we chose to visit the grottoes. We could have made our way to the top of the estate to see cork trees and other sights, but Matthew thought it would be fun to visit the “Playboy Grotto.” I kept giving him looks of confusion when he kept repeating that and he said “You’ve never heard of the Playboy Grotto?”

No, Smash, I have not. And no, this grotto was not named the Playboy Grotto but it was probably just as frightening. We found an open, dark entrance and decided to go in. After a few seconds of walking in complete darkness and not seeing any light up ahead, we pulled out my phone and turned the flashlight app on. We walked down, down, down… until I started getting uncomfortable. How long had we been down here? How much further were we going to go? What day was it? Was Matthew really my husband or was this about to turn into one of those creepy Saw movies?

We came to a fork in the dark tunnel – again, we’re alone here, with no one else to save us from imminent doom – when Matthew said he’d like to keep going. Suuuure, that’s what everyone in the movies wants to do before their head gets chopped off! But I said fine, we’ll take a right here and if there are any forks in the paths up ahead, I think we should turn back. I did not want to get lost in some underground tunnel while a random earthquake decides to hit Sintra. What? I don’t have an overactive imagination. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

As you can see, since I’m writing this post right now, we lived. We came out in an underground pond, where we saw ducks happily quacking in the distance. “If anything, I can always swim my way out of here!” Seriously, my brain wouldn’t stop with the Saw images. We did end up coming across another couple, who had their phone flashlights out in front of them and who laughed shakily as we passed by them. See? I wasn’t the only wimp.

All in all? An incredible and memorable trip. I don’t know that I’ll ever experience anything like it again.