Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mrs. Obama's Healthful Eating

Foodies have been buzzing about Michelle Obama's recent visit to Miriam's Kitchen, a DC center that feeds the homeless. Yesterday's New York Times Dining section featured her on the front page. Apparently, Mrs. Obama spent some time talking about healthy eating and promoting fresh, unprocessed and locally grown foods. Ruth Reichl, Editor of Gourmet magazine, applauded Mrs. Obama for promoting healthy eating for everyone, not just her own family. "Clearly Mrs. Obama is making a point. She thinks communities across the nation deserve to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables." What stood out to me is an anecdote about a terrific sounding creamed spinach without the cream, made by the White House chefs. Despite the fresh ingredients, and the creative, healthy recipe, Sasha did not like the dish. "No matter what you do,"sometimes kids are like, 'It's green!'." (exciting update!! - 3/18/09 - White House recipe for creamed spinach can be found at: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/eat-your-greens/?partner=rss&emc=rss)

I think the key is to keep trying. Maybe they only take what my son and daughter's third grade teacher called a "no thank you portion" at first. As they get older and have seen the vegetable on your plate for so long it seems normal, maybe they'll try it again and like it. Maybe they'll never like it, but you'll never know if you don't keep trying from time to time.

On that note, try salmon. Salmon seems to be the workhorse in my fish repertoire and I probably cook it close to once a week. There are many reasons why, when I stand at the fish counter, I am repeatedly drawn to salmon. We all know it's a healthy source of Omega - 3 fatty acid, which we are told helps prevent heart disease. It's a versatile protein that can be cooked in a myriad of delicious ways and is near to impossible to ruin. Lately, it's been one of the less expensive fish options available. And, this is a biggie...many kids will eat it. Both of mine will, as will several of my younger nieces and nephews. For taste, I prefer wild Alaskan salmon. This also seems to be the salmon of choice as far as sustainable seafood and health issues go. I have tried the organically farmed Irish salmon available at a number of stores, and, in a pinch, it's fine too.

For a number of years, I relied on a miso/soy sauce glaze from Cooking Light which my family loved. I have since received two other Asian inspired recipes for sauces to use with salmon which have been uniformly popular. However, the sodium content of the miso and soy sauce, even the low sodium soy sauce, keeps me from using these recipes as often. Plus, variety is crucial when you eat salmon as often as we do.

I've tried some other marinades with maple syrup and they are often tasty enough, but this recipe is something special. It's simple both in terms of required ingredients and method. The end result is, as with the roasted cauliflower, more than the sum of its parts. This dish, while not fancy, is as appropriate for guests as for a weeknight family dinner. As the recipe amounts are per fillet, it can be reduced and expanded without much mathematical prowess.

I found the inspiration in The Balthazar Cookbook, from the restaurant of the same name in New York City and adapted it to make it a little more user friendly for the home cook. For purposes of reducing the sodium content even further, read the labels of the bread crumbs and the Dijon mustard carefully. I found whole wheat bread crumbs with no salt added at Whole Foods recently. I no longer use the readily available commercial brands of bread crumbs as the ingredient lists often include corn syrup and chemicals in addition to the bread. I have made bread crumbs myself from time to time, and if you are inclined to do so, that's another way to control the contents. However, having some already on hand makes this a go to weeknight recipe.

Mustard - Crusted Salmon
(adapted from The Balthazar Cookbook)
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 salmon fillets, each about 6 -7 ounces
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard per fillet
1 teaspoon whole wheat bread crumbs, per fillet

-Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
-Spread 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard on the rounded, non-skin side of each piece of salmon.
-Sprinkle 1 teaspoon breadcrumbs on top of the mustard on each fillet. Use your fingers to gently press the crumbs into the mustard.
-Heat a large, ovenproof saute pan over a high flame and add the olive oil (note - If you have a non-stick pan that can go in the oven at 450 degrees you can use that. Many nonstick pans are not appropriate for that heat, though. Also, if the handle is not heatproof, try covering it with aluminum foil before you put it in the oven). Let pan get nice and hot. When you feel a good amount of heat rising as you hold your hand about two to three inches over the surface of the pan, add the salmon, mustard coated side of the fish down. Lower the flame to medium and sear the fish until a crust forms, about 3 -5 minutes.
-Carefully flip the fillets and sear the other side for about 2 minutes more.
-Transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

Balthazar recommends serving this with lentils, which would be delicious. I recently served this with roasted broccoli and a quinoa "salad." Last time, I sauteed spinach (see last post!) and made a dish of white beans. I'm a little deficient in the photography department or I'd have a photo to share. I hope to add photos to the blog soon!

**For those of you who can't use bread crumbs, try one of the maple syrup marinades: Mix 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons orange juice and dash of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Marinate the salmon in this for an hour or two in the refrigerator. Reserve the marinade and pour into a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer until it reduces a little. Grill the salmon either on a grill pan coated with cooking spray or olive oil or barbecue grill until the fish flakes easily. Serve with the reserved, reduced marinade. You can even garnish with some scallions or chives if you like. This is great with brown rice or whole wheat couscous or even a quinoa salad.


  1. Sounds delish--too bad my husband hates mustard...what a pain in the ass!

  2. If you want to just cook the salmon in the oven, I put it on a sheet covered in aluminum foil. The skin of the fish adheres to the foil and the meat slides off easily. It makes for a very easy clean-up.

  3. That's a great idea and definitely saves time and a step in cooking! And you could spray the top of the fish with a little cooking spray or misted olive oil so that you get a bit of a crust. But I don't think you'd get as crispy a crust, which to my kids, is the best part.