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A Meal Fit for a Birthday Queen

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Last night I celebrated Easter with MM and his family at their home in the Peninsula. We were also celebrating the birthday of MM’s mother, which is today. As part of the celebration, MM and I planned to cook dinner while his mother sat back and relaxed on her birthday. In actuality, MM helped a little with the crouton prep (but did most of the cleaning of the dishes with his father and brother) and his mother helped me with some of the other prep. That being said, the whole meal was pretty easy to put together and it turned out great. Two of the recipes I had never done before, but I will definitely be making again!

The Menu

Baby Arugula Salad with Ciabatta Croutons and Fresh Lemon

Sauteed Asparagus with Sea Salt and Basil

Roasted Tri-Colored Baby Potatoes with Fennel and Garlic (new!)

Baked Salmon with Pesto, Parmesan and Tomatoes (new!)

The Wine

2009 Failla Anderson Valley Pinot Noir


  • 1 bag of tri-colored potatoes (we got from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil (used in all the dishes)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 large fillet of salmon, cut into smaller individual pieces
  • 3/4 cup homemade spinach pesto (if you don’t have time to make your own pesto, or you don’t have the means to, buy a good-quality pesto from your local grocery store)
  • olive oil spray
  • 1-2 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 loaf of Ciabatta bread (fresh or 1 day old, used for croutons)
  • 2 bunches of thick asparagus
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bag of baby arugula, pre-washed or washed
  • ground black pepper
  • sea salt
  • garlic salt (for croutons)

If making this meal as a whole (which I suggest you do), start with the potatoes because those will take the longest to cook. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After lightly scrubbing each potato, quarter each one lengthwise and placed into a large bowl. Add about 1 TB EVOO and toss with 8 cloves of peeled garlic, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, and a little sea salt. Transfer to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum or sprayed with olive oil, with the flat side facing down (each potato has two flat sides to pick the one with most surface area). Place into oven for about 45 minutes, checking for doneness with a fork. If the potatoes are tender enough for your fork to easily go through, they’re probably done. You can also taste one to be sure, but be careful because they’re hot!

While the potatoes are in the oven, you can get started on cutting the bread for the croutons. Ciabatta croutons work best for the arugula salad, and you only need about half a loaf. Slice the bread in half through the inside, then slice each half into 1-inch thick strips, and slice the strips into squares. Heat a large skillet with 2-3 TB of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add 4 cloves of peeled garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, toss in the bread coating each piece with the olive oil. Add a few shakes of garlic salt and toss frequently (but not constantly) over medium-low heat so they do not brown. When they have reached your desired crispiness, transfer to a sealed tupperware or wrap in a couple layers of aluminum foil to keep warm.

While you’re keeping an eye on your croutons, you can begin to prep the salmon. To help it cook more evenly, cut the salmon filet into 5-6 smaller pieces, leaving the skin on. Coat a baking pan with olive oil spray and place the salmon on top, skin side down. Spray each fillet with a little olive oil and lightly salt and pepper each one. Add about 1 TB of pesto to each piece of salmon, spreading it evenly over the top. Sprinkle about 1/2 TB of freshly grated Parmesan over each piece, top with tomato slices, and add another 1/2 TB of parmesan over the tomato. Bake in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, checking to make sure each piece is cooked through completely.

By now your croutons should be finished, so you can use the same pan to cook the asparagus while the salmon and potatoes are finishing up in the oven. There are two different kinds of asparagus: thick and thin. I prefer the thick kind because they keep their crispiness better and are more filling so you don’t need to make as many. You really don’t need to do a lot to asparagus with seasoning, and the flavors of the croutons will also rub off on the asparagus if you use the same pan. Just spray with olive oil and saute over medium heat, adding a little sea salt and dried basil. Cook them for about 10-15 minutes, or until they have browned and are cooked through (taste to make sure they have desired doneness).

The last thing to do is assemble your salad, which should only take a minute. Do this right before you are about to serve dinner so the salad doesn’t get soggy. Add about 1/4 cup or less of of shredded parmesan, juice of one lemon, light salt and pepper, and a little olive oil (no more than 1 TB) and toss together. Add the croutons and toss again, then it’s ready to serve. I saved a handful of croutons for MM to have as a “side dish”, since that’s what he originally requested when I asked what we should make besides salmon.

If you’ve timed the meal correctly, the asparagus, salmon and potatoes should all finish at the same time. If the potatoes are done before the salmon, just cover them with aluminum and keep warm before transferring to a serving dish. Cut into the salmon at the thickest part with a fork or knife to make sure it’s done (it should be). For us, the salmon cooked perfectly in the 20 minutes in the oven, and it tasted fantastic! The combination of the pesto, parmesan and tomato worked deliciously with the salmon, and the garlic and basil that was used in the other dishes really brought everything together for one cohesive meal.

I opted to bring the Failla Pinot Noir because I had been saving it for a special occasion, and I thought it would be a nice, light red wine to pair with the salmon. I was right. The wine had aged only a couple of years, but it was the perfect amount of time to soften the spice and bring out the full fruit flavor. People think you have to serve white wine with fish, but with a hearty meal like this I think a light red is the better option. All in all, tt was the perfect addition to the meal.

MM’s mother also made a delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert (my favorite), but alas there are no photos because I gobbled it up too quickly. One of these days I will try my hand at baking, but until then I’ll let the people who know what they’re doing handle the dessert.

About Kelsey

Kelsey is a food and wine lover residing in Napa, California, where she does marketing for a boutique wine collective. She previously lived in San Francisco for over six years, where her blogging journey began. She loves to cook seasonal meals and experiment with new wine pairings. She has been drinking and learning about wine with her father since she was 14, and cooking in the kitchen with her mother since she was 6. Both of her parents taught her well about seasoning and flavors, and she continues to learn more with every meal that is made.

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