Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

A small miracle occurred in my kitchen last week: I cooked salmon. Salmon that was totally raw – not smoked, or preserved in any way. No one was holding a gun to my head, and I had purchased the fillet of my own free will. Even better, I actually thought the final product was GOOD, and not just in an “I will tolerate this food for the sake of my health” kind of way… but in an “I would willingly eat that again, even without the presence of a threat of bodily harm if I don’t” sort of way. This can mean only one thing: I am growing as a person. Next thing you know, I’ll be ordering raw oysters at restaurants! (No. No, I will not. I am growing as a person, not growing CRAZY.)

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

In all seriousness, I’m not gonna pretend that I just lightly seasoned the salmon with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and then delighted in the wonderful taste of the sea as I ate my dinner. On the contrary, I crusted that fillet up with all kinds of seasonings, topped it with a delicious, creamy sauce, and then rejoiced in the fact that I could only detect a hint of salmon flavor. Enough to know it was salmon, but not enough for it to taste too fishy. Success!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream
adapted from here
serves 2

For the salmon:
2 salmon fillets, 5-6oz each
2 T brown sugar
2 t chili powder
1 t smoked paprika
1 t smoked salt (kosher salt is fine, if you don’t have smoked)
1/4 tsp cayenne papper
olive oil
one lime, cut into 4 wedges

For the sauce:
1/2 a medium avocado
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (I use 2%)
juice of half a lime
1 clove of garlic
small handful of fresh parsley
large pinch of kosher salt

1.) Mix the brown sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, smoked salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Meanwhile, heat a skillet (non-stick is helpful) over medium heat.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

2.) Gently rub the spice mixture into all sides of the salmon fillets. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and add the fillets, skin side up, to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on the first side, depending on the thickness of the fish, until each fillet has a nice, dark sear, and then flip.

3.) Cook the fillets for about 2 minutes on the second side. Meanwhile, place your limes in the pan, cut side down, and allow them to caramelize. Flip once the first side is a nice golden brown.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

4.) While the salmon fillets cook, place all the ingredients for the sauce into a food processor or blender, and pulse until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

5.) Serve each fillet with the sauce spooned over the top, and a caramelized lime wedge. Squeeze the lime over the fish, and enjoy!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

Like I said, this salmon recipe is not for you if you like the pure, unadulterated flavor of salmon. However, for those of use that want the health benefits of eating salmon without the fishy taste, this is PERFECT. The sweet, spicy, and smoky seasoning gives the fish a ton of flavor without completely covering it up, and the cool, creamy avocado sauce is fantastic. My husband literally ate the leftover sauce with a spoon, and proceeded to make proclamations about how delicious it was all evening.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

This recipe also fits nicely into the category of “impressive enough for dinner guests, but easy enough that you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night.” There are never enough of those kind of recipes, are there?

You can also file this one under “easy enough to tackle, even when you’re 3 cocktails deep,”

S’mores Cupcakes (dairy-free, if you prefer!)

S'mores Cupcakes

I have been meaning to post about these cupcakes since last summer, and I keep putting it off… because every time I pull up photos of the damn things, I am overcome with the urge to bake (and subsequently EAT) a giant batch of them. And let’s be honest, now that I’m over 30, any sort of over-indulgence results in a stern talking-to from the waistband of my pants, so… I try not to torture myself by gazing at photos of baked goods, is what I’m saying. ENJOY YOUR METABOLISM WHILE YOU’RE YOUNG, KIDS!

S'mores Cupcakes

(That got off track quickly, didn’t it?)

My point is: these cupcakes are mighty delicious! I would like to say that they’re less messy than eating an actual s’more, but that would be a straight-up lie, and I won’t do that to you. So, pull your hair back, roll up your sleeves, and just get comfortable with the idea of having bits of marshmallow stuck to your face all day. They’re worth it.

S’mores Cupcakes*
adapted slightly from here and here
makes 24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk

S'mores Cupcakes

For the ganache filling:
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)

Special equipment needed:
a kitchen torch**

S'mores Cupcakes

1.) Preheat your oven to 350°. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until well-combined, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.

2.) In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt). Add 1/3 of the dry mixture to the butter, sugar, and eggs, and mix until just incorporated. Then add half the milk, another third of the dry ingredients, the remainder of the milk, and the remainder of the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix with each addition.

3.) Place cupcake liners into cupcake tins (or spray them with nonstick cooking spray), and fill each one about 2/3 full with batter (I like to use a 4T metal scoop so all my cupcakes are even – and err on the side of underfilling the cups). Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

4.) While the cupcakes bake, make your ganache. Place the chocolate and heavy cream into a small glass bowl, and set the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, making a double boiler (keep in mind: you do not want the simmering water to touch the bowl, just the resulting steam. You only need a small amount of simmering water at the bottom of the pot, and the bowl should be a bit bigger than the pot, so it will rest nicely in the opening). As the chocolate and cream heat up, gently whisk the two together until they’re completely melted and cohesive. Carefully remove the bowl from the pot (it will be hot!) and set aside.

5.) When your cupcakes are completely cool, take a small paring knife and cut a small hole out of the middle of each one, a little larger than the size of a quarter. Eat the resulting cupcake bits as a reward for all your hard work.

S'mores Cupcakes

6.) When the ganache has totally cooled (you can toss it into the fridge for 15 minutes or so to speed the process up), it should be relatively firm. Use a small metal scoop (I like the 2t size) or two spoons to scoop a small amount of ganache into each cupcake.

7.) Time for the frosting. Set the metal bowl of your stand mixer over a pot of simmering water – again, making a double boiler. Add the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar (if using) to the bowl, and whisk to combine. Whisk the mixture constantly, until the sugar is totally dissolved, and the egg whites are warm to the touch (the sugar is dissolved when you dip your finger into the mixture and it no longer feels grainy – this should take 2-3 minutes).

Marshmallow Frosting

8.) Place the mixing bowl on to your mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, and set it on low. Gradually increase the speed on the mixer as the egg whites thicken, and beat until the egg whites are about tripled in volume, and very glossy, about 6-8 minutes.

Marshmallow Frosting

9.) Pile the marshmallow frosting into a piping bag fitted with a tip of your choice (I prefer one of the star tips, so the resulting ridges will brown nicely). Pipe the frosting on to the cupcakes, and then go over the frosting with your mini kitchen torch to toast it lightly**.

S'mores Cupcakes

*These cupcakes are easy to make dairy-free, if that’s your thing. Substitute Earth Balance for the butter, and a dairy-free milk of choice for the whole milk (I went with Lactaid, but unsweetened almond milk would also be fine). The frosting is dairy-free on its own, and for the ganache, you can either use a combination of semi-sweet chocolate and coconut oil (about 2T for 6 ounces of chocolate), or totally skip the ganache filling, and instead just melt some semi-sweet chocolate and drizzle it over the top of the frosted, toasted cupcakes.


**If you don’t have a kitchen torch, I understand you can pop these suckers under your broiler to toast the marshmallow frosting – I have never tried this, so your mileage may vary. Please report back if you give this method a shot. Also, for the love of all things holy, KEEP AN EYE ON THEM. You don’t want your beautiful cupcakes to go up in flames because you got distracted by yelling at the couple on House Hunters who insist that they can’t buy that house because the paint colors are ugly. FOCUS.

Man, these cupcakes are gooooood. The graham cracker cupcake is just slightly sweet, and the chocolate ganache is chocolate ganache, so you’ll find no argument there. Add a big pile of sweet, fluffy marshmallow with delightfully brown, toasty edges, and your guests will be putty in your hands. They’ll also probably leave sticky piles of marshmallow all over your house, but that’s why the nice people at Mr. Clean make Magic Erasers.

S'mores Cupcakes

As you’ll note in the photos in this post, these made an excellent addition to a Fourth of July celebration, but I also made them for a Christmas party, and they were well-received then, too. The allure of the s’more knows no season.

You’re welcome, and also, I’m sorry,

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Carrots are one of those things that I don’t really LIKE… but they’re non-offensive enough (and convenient enough for a quick snack) that I force myself to eat them, because apparently they’re healthy and stuff. I’ve found that the most tolerable way to eat them is paired with something with a bit of spice – for instance, some raw carrots dipped in chipotle hummus (Dear Trader Joe’s, WHYYYY did you discontinue your amazing chipotle hummus?? You’re breakin’ my heart, guys…)

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Another tough part of the carrot equation is texture. Cooked carrots are… not delightful, in my opinion. Too often they’re mushy, and just plain overcooked. So, given all of the above information, you’re probably wondering why the hell I opted to make these carrots at all! I kind of wondered myself, actually. But, if any unappealing vegetable can be saved, there are two ways to do it: roasting it, or crusting it in a boatload of delicious spices. And I plan to employ the “crusting vegetables in spices” method a lot more from now on, because the results are FABULOUS.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce
serves 8-10 as a side
adapted from here

2lb small to medium carrots, with tops
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 T vegetable oil
1 cup greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
zest of one lemon
1 T harissa, sriracha, or other chili sauce

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

1.) Set a large pot of water to boil, and prepare an ice bath (fill a large bowl about 1/3 of the way with ice, then add water). As the water comes up to a boil, peel the carrots, and trim their tops to about 1-2″ long.

2.) When the water is boiling, add a small handful of kosher salt, then add the carrots. Allow the carrots to blanch for about 6 minutes – less if they’re particularly small, more if they’re large. After 6 minutes, remove them from the water and put them straight into the ice bath.

3.) While the carrots sit in the ice bath for a minute, mix up your spices. Combine the brown sugar, ground mustard, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.

4.) Once the carrots have cooled a bit (just 2-3 minutes), remove them from the ice bath and pat them dry. Place them into a large mixing bowl, and toss with one tablespoon of vegetable oil and the spice mixture, until all the carrots are well-coated in the spices.

5.) Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat, and add enough vegetable oil to very thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Once it’s good and hot, add a single layer of carrots, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they’re nicely golden brown, and then flip. Keep a close eye on them – if your pan is too hot or you didn’t use enough oil, the brown sugar in the spice mix will burn REALLY fast.

6.) Continue cooking batches in the same manner, until all the carrots are done. While the carrots cook, mix up your dipping sauce. Add the zest to the greek yogurt, and mix to thoroughly combine. Then, add the chili sauce, and swirl it into the greek yogurt (it looks prettier if you don’t fully mix the two together, but it’ll taste delicious either way).

7.) Serve the carrots hot, with the greek yogurt chili sauce spooned on top.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

This recipe might just make a carrot lover out of me, yet. The spice mix is SO GOOD – a lot of savory flavors, some spice, and just a touch of sweetness from the brown sugar. I’ve actually used the leftover spice mix on a few other vegetables this week, and they’ve all been totally delicious! The greek yogurt dip is nice and creamy and cool, but with a bit of brightness from the lemon and the chili sauce, which cuts the richness a little. All of the carrot-haters at our table loved these, and I can’t wait to make them again!

Who knew that boiling purple carrots would turn the water black??

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

There will come a time, approximately 72 hours from now, that the thought of another piece of turkey will make you want to cry. The idea of one more bite of stuffing, or another mountain of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, will make you groan in discomfort. I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE, you’ll think. And at that point, you’ll be thankful for this recipe – for something warm, comforting, and cheesy, that has NOTHING to do with a Thanksgiving table. It’ll be perfect to make on Saturday morning, and keep warm on the stove while you decorate the Christmas tree… and then to heat up the leftovers on Sunday afternoon, when you’re so burned out on cooking that you can barely even LOOK at food. Pick up the ingredients when you make that last run to the grocery store on Thursday morning, because you forgot chicken stock… you’ll be glad you did.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons
serves 4-6

4 T butter
2 medium leeks
2 medium carrots, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
12oz bottle of ale
1 T worcestershire
1.5 t ground mustard
8oz sharp white cheddar, grated
8oz monterey jack, grated*
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
6oz bread, cubed
olive oil
garlic powder
kosher salt
black pepper

*Two notes about the cheese. First: DO NOT use pre-grated cheese. You definitely want to grate your own cheese for this soup, so you get a nice, smooth texture. Second: if you LOVE sharp cheddar cheese, you can certainly use all cheddar cheese in the soup. I found it to be a bit too sharp for my taste that way, so next time I’ll make it with half sharp cheddar and half monterey jack, as indicated in this recipe.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

1.) First, you need to clean your leeks. Grab a large bowl, and fill it 3/4 of the way with cold water. Cut the roots and dark green parts off the leeks, then cut them in half lengthwise. Cut those halves into 1/4″ thick half moon slices, and toss them into the bowl of water. Use your hands to break up the leaves and swish them around. Allow the leeks to sit in the water for about 5 minutes longer, without disturbing them.

2.) Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter; once it has melted and browned just slightly, add the carrots, and stir to coat with the butter. Gently grab handfuls of the leeks from the water (being careful not to disturb the water too much), squeeze as much excess water out as you can, and add them to the pot. Discard the dirty water left behind by the leeks.

3.) While the vegetables cook, prep your croutons. Preheat your oven to 375°; line a baking sheet with foil, and add the cubed bread to it. Toss the bread with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, a couple good shakes of garlic powder, and a good pinch of kosher salt. Spread the bread into a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

4.) Allow the vegetables to sweat and cook down for about 5 minutes, seasoning with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.

5.) Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and stir to coat. Let the vegetable and flour mixture cook for about 2 minutes, so the raw flour taste can cook out. Pour in the beer, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, to lift any browned bits.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

6.) Slowly pour in the milk and stock, whisking as you do. Once all the liquids have been added, add the worcestershire and ground mustard, and another pinch each of salt and pepper. Allow the soup to come to a simmer, and let it simmer til it thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes.

7.) Turn the heat to low, and add the cheese to the soup in 4 or 5 batches, whisking each addition into the soup completely before adding the next. When all the cheese had been added, allow the soup to heat back through over low heat (about 5 minutes), and then serve topped with bacon and croutons.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Not much better in life than a soup with an entire pound of cheese in it, am I right?? This soup is velvety and rich and cheesy, but somehow it manages not to be super heavy. The croutons add a nice crunch, and the bacon lends some smoke… and the cheese makes it cheesy, because cheese was sent to us directly from heaven, to make us happy, and so we should use it at every available opportunity. Or something like that. Either way, this soup is fantastic and super tasty, and it contains no trace of turkey or stuffing or cranberry sauce, so it’s the perfect way to reintroduce yourself to the world of non-Thanksgiving food. You’re welcome.

Cheese is my copilot,