Cajun Salmon & Garlic Parsley Mashed Potatoes

cajun salmon & parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

If you had stepped into our kitchen at around 4 p.m. a few Wednesday afternoons ago, you would have seen our side door, the one that exits to the driveway and our upstairs neighbor’s black iron stairs, flung wide open. You would have seen smoke wafting from the stove through that door, intermingling with the 50-some-degree weather and bright blue skies of Nashville February. And you would have smelled the sea, not the dreamy, refreshing scent of ocean tides, but the pungent, unfortunate odor of smelly, gamey raw fish. Tim and I were testing a recipe.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

The idea of fish for dinner is nothing new in my family. My parents eat it once a week, at least. When we take my dad to restaurants, he looks for fish on the menu and asks the waiter, looking the guy in the eye and flashing a smile, if the chef might be able to blacken the salmon? And if you really could do that, boy, that would be great. While it’s true I didn’t grow up sharing my parents’ love of fish—nor their ability to treat perfect strangers as confidantes—thanks to their influence, blackened fish entered my palate early in adolescent life. Turns out, I learned as a teenager, cover something with enough powerful spice and cook it until it forms a crust, and even the fishiest fish tastes halfway okay. Now, as an adult, I freely admit I delight in a blackened, crusted tilapia and the way it sits light in my gut (not to mention, now also, the way that my dad values every waitress, businessperson or child he meets). And as far as how I feel now about fish, I think I like it best of all the meats—and yet, strangely, it is the kind I buy and cook least.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

Standing over our smoky, steaming skillet, Tim and I wondered where we’d gone wrong. We’d followed a recipe I’d found on Pinterest, brushing Dover sole filets in lemon juice and coating them in a paprika-heavy spice mixture before sautéing them in oil. The resulting filets were fine, edible even. They were spicy, for sure, practically Cajun and the kind of food to leave you reaching for a water glass. But they weren’t fun to eat. I disliked them as much as I disliked the way our kitchen smelled for hours afterwards.

So that night, discouraged, I emailed my mom.

“Could you send me your recipe for blackened fish?” I typed and clicked send. That was all I said. Our correspondence, which, since I’ve lived in Nashville, relies more on emails than phone calls, typically plays out this way.

“Use whatever spices you like,” she responded. “Cayenne, Old Bay… there’s no real formula.”

“But what about technique?” I shot back. “Any tips?”

Her eventual response wasn’t lengthy—four sentences of instruction at most—but it gave me hope:

Put EVOO and butter in a pan and let it get hot, but not smoking. Place fish in pan and sprinkle on your seasonings. Let the fish get good and cooked, and flip it to the other side. It only taks a short time. Enjoy!

Directions like that imply that even a child could cook salmon well, so two weeks later, Mom’s email open on my laptop, her instructions are exactly what Tim and I followed, and here is the result:

cajun salmon and parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

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Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas

sweet potato quesadillas | foodloveswriting.com

A few Saturdays ago, wearing red lipstick and riding boots, I took a free Mexican cooking class with my old Nashville roommates, Sara and Sarah. We met in a bright, sunny space dubbed the grocery store’s “community room,” where the tall ceiling stretched as high as a church building’s and the kitchen featured two portable stoves. While Sara asked questions and Sarah sipped iced coffee with sunglasses perched atop her head, all three of us leaned forward from our third row seats to get closer looks as a man named Michael flashed through a handful of demonstrations, beginning with tortilla soup and ending with fried avocados on sticks.

Michael, who looked a little like a stoic Ron Howard, gave constant tips and tricks to our little, informal group of around 16 as he worked. He explained how to chop an onion (sort of like this), why he likes polenta as a soup thickener (the flavor), when to add spices (to oil, before liquid, as most are fat-soluble). When he completed a dish, we tasted—and, no one is more surprised than I am to say this, but the taste I liked best was the quesadillas.

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Italian-Style Green Beans

When Tim makes Italian-style green beans, he thinks of his grandma Emily, a beautiful Italian woman with short white hair and smiling blue eyes, who still explains recipes with a flick of her wrist and an “Oh, it’s so simple!” When I make Italian-style green beans, I think of Tim, the man who brought them, along with avocados and perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and raw milk bought straight from the farmer, into my life three years ago.

Italian-style Green Beans | FoodLovesWriting.com

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Melissa Coleman’s Honey Butter Popcorn

Honey Butter Popcorn | FoodLovesWriting.com

Listen, I’m under no delusions that you’re all out there, biting your fingernails, anxiously awaiting our fresh blog post this morning, but I’m still going to tell you about the roadblocks involved in its getting here because apparently, admitting to your blog community that you aim to post every Tuesday and Friday is a little like telling your friends and family you want to lose fifteen pounds in the new year: the experts say this will keep you accountable, but in reality all it assures you is that now there are an even greater number of people you stand to disappoint—not to mention, the self-imposed pressure seems to draw all manner of new and unexpected obstacles into your path. Today’s popcorn recipe, for example, comes to you in spite of dark days, failed brownies and one long and drizzling Sunday afternoon eaten up by hours playing with my new watercolor paint set (although, to be fair, those hours did bring our fresh January blog header).

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Oven Fries with Lemony Green Dressing + Gruyere (& a Gift)

[Update! Congratulations to Rachel Q, winner of the giveaway!]

Oven Fries with Lemon Green Dressing + Gryere | FoodLovesWriting.com

A long time ago, I heard a superstition that says the activities in which you partake on New Year’s Day set the tone for the way your coming year will go: Spend money, and it will be a year of loss. Receive money, and it will be a year of gain. Work, and you’ll be industrious. Play, and you’ll be full of fun. Eat something green, so the tradition goes, and you can expect the luck of more green (of the financial kind) to find its way to you in the months ahead. So it’s with that old superstition in mind that we bring you today’s cheesy oven fries, kicked up a notch with lemony green dressing, salty and addicting and very green—even though, between us, it’s not exactly money that we’re hoping to find more of in 2013.

(Warning: extremely long post to follow.)

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Joanna Linberg’s Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

cajun sweet potato fries | foodloveswriting.com

If my life were a novel, the way I found Joanna Linberg’s blog, Honey & Salt would be a classic example of foreshadowing. Picture it: November 2010. I’m posting some scattered thoughts on thankfulness (or, really, unthankfulness) here at the blog. Three days later, unbeknownst to me, a magazine editor from Iowa links to that post in a roundup at her site, sending a pingback to my email inbox, landing me on her thoughtful piece of the Internet; I start reading her blog; we become friends; we visit each other; we cry in my kitchen; we write letters; and now, here I am, bringing you a sweet potato recipe from the woman I would now call one of the most thankful people I know.

You probably remember Joanna—the Joanna of Brad and Joanna, the friends we went to see in St. Louis last month? She could just as easily be called the Full of Wisdom Joanna or the Writes Beautiful Letters Joanna or the Joanna Who Points Me to Truth and Gratitude Every Time We Talk. But, I suspect, to you, she will quickly become the Joanna Who Makes Cajun Sweet Potato Fries, and nothing else will matter, at least after you try this recipe that is, because, people, it’s something else.

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Cozy Day at Home + Caramelized Apples and Onions

Caramelized Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

The first time I met Tim, he said something in passing about how he’d much prefer a night in, at home, to endless social activity, one party and get-together after another, and I couldn’t believe how much he sounded like me. They say it’s the opposites who are the ones to attract, but, almost one year into marriage, all I have to say is that it sure is nice to share life with someone who also finds pleasure in picking a new Netflix movie or testing orangettes or reading side by side, before falling asleep at night.

Making Tea | FoodLovesWriting.comfall day at home | foodloveswriting.com

If it weren’t for the great enjoyment we both also find in hosting big dinner parties and attending outdoor gatherings and making meaningful connections with other human beings, and mostly the growing desire we both have to stretch outside our comfort zones and love, I wonder just how easy it would be for us to settle in at home, something brewing on the stove and, stay there, content.

Kinfolk and Tea | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s something we’ve thought so deliberately about recently that, in an effort to find ways to love other people besides each other, we’ve been filling our social calendar fuller than it’s ever been in our married life. We’ve been hosting and attending and gathering and joining, and it’s been good, all of it, delighting in conversations with friends new and old, hearing how people are doing, laughing and crying and learning, seeing how much there is yet to know.

But still, in the midst of it, I have to say there remains something equally special about those quiet, cozy days (or even hours) at home, the kind where there’s nothing much on the agenda besides laundry and reading and making dinner—and the more rare these chunks of time become, the more precious they feel.

Pound of Apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Fall is good at reminding us of this. As the days darken and chill and we turn on our heaters for the first time in months, there’s an unspoken push towards blankets and cocoa and the comfort of a warm kitchen.

Caramelized Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

October beckons us to roast and to caramelize, to slow-cook and to stew. There’s nothing quite like coming in from the cold to the smell of something brewing, and that’s never more true than with today’s easy apples and onions dish.

Bowl of Apples + Onions | FoodLovesWriting.com

By the time the onions are soft and translucent, your home will smell as good as Thanksgiving dinner; and, standing above the stove, your hair pulled back and your house slippers on, the house quiet and still, save for sizzling, that right there will be so good, so rich, all you can do is give thanks for such a moment and, enjoy.

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