What We’re Cooking Now: Girls Night

Salmon Nicoise Salad
I hosted a gathering of girls the other night – wine, snacks and lots of laughter, my favorite kind of night.
The menu was simple, a salmon nicoise salad, fruit and cheese plate, white peach tart for dessert.  Very healthy, and a great pairing to the surplus of white wine we have recently found ourselves with.  (It seemed for months we had a surplus of red and no white…conscious buying made a change to that with a case of each King Estate Pinot Gris, Adelsheim Chardonnay and one of our favorites, Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay.)  The King Estate was on the menu for this night, filled with light, crisp flavors of peach, tropical fruit and star fruit.  King Estate, one of the most beautiful wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley produces a lot of Pinot Gris.  Though they do a lot of Pinot Noir as well, like many of their neighbors, Pinot Gris has really become their signature wine, and a perfect accompaniment to a hearty fish like salmon as the crisp white wine will cut through the fattiness of the fish and creaminess of the potatoes, and pair nicely with the clean salad flavors. 

Cheese plate was simple, as a cheese plate should be.  A few green apples, big bunch of red and green grapes, dried apricots and a stunning fig spread from The Girl and the Fig  in Sonoma….one of my favorite spots in wine country for both creating stunning picnics, and picking up items like the signature fig spread chock full of spice and ripe California figs.  The cheese, always a blue, tonight’s from another favorite, Rouge River Creamery Crater Lake Blue; an extra sharp white cheddar and an aged gouda.  I also included some warm brie, a stellar flavor with the fig spread, and so easy to do.  Place the unwrapped brie on a rimmed baking dish and place in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese starts to melt and get gooey.   Remove from oven and tent with aluminum foil for about 5 minutes to let the cheese gel a bit.  Serve with a crusty baguette and the fig spread.  Rosemary crackers are also great with all of these cheeses. The tart and salmon nicoise are almost this easy.  Follow the jump for more. 

Salmon Nicoise Salad
1 head leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh baby spinach
5-6 fingerling potatoes
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
½ large English cucumber
1 cup cherry tomatoes
4 oz French style green beans – I like them raw, but you could blanch for a few minutes in boiling water, and then cool in an ice bath
½ cup nicoise olives
2 tablespoons capers
¼  red onion, shaved
1 avocado
3 artichoke hearts, sliced
8 oz salmon – for a quick fix smoked salmon is great, fresh salmon will work great as well.
lemon juice

For the dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons tarragon (fresh preferred, if dried use about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

This is a composed salad, served with the dressing on the side, and nothing on it really wits, so it can be made ahead without issue.
Heat the oven to about 400.  Clean the potatoes and rub with a bit of grapeseed or olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh rosemary if you like. Place in an oven safe dish and roast until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  If potatoes are especially large cut them in half, they should be bite size pieces.
 If using fresh salmon heat a grill pan to medium heat.  Season the salmon with salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne pepper for a little bit heat.  Brush the grill pan lightly with grapeseed oil, not much is needed as the fish has a lot of oil. (Grapeseed is great here as it can handle very high heat without burning.)  Sear the salmon on the hot grill pan until just browned, about 3 minutes. Flip and do the same to the reverse side, should just take about a minute and a half to two minutes on the flip side.  Remove from heat and from the pan and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over. Set aside. 
On a large platter arrange the washed lettuce leaves covering the entire platter. Sprinkle entire platter with 2 cups spinach leaves.  Working across the platter begin arranging each ingredient across the plate keeping the salmon and potatoes towards the middle of the platter.  Reserve the olives, capers, onions and avocado until all other ingredients have been arranged.  Once all other ingredients have been arranged sprinkle top with onions, then olives and capers, then arrange thin avocado slices across the top. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with the dressing on the side.  To prepare the dressing simply whisk together all ingredients adding the oil last. 

White and Golden Peach tart as it goes into the oven
White Peach Tart
I fell in love with white peaches this year.  Super sweet and juicy they are great on their own, in a tasty white peach sangria or in this beautiful tart.  I mix a few golden with the white peaches to balance out the sweetness
1 frozen pie crust that can be rolled out, thawed
3 white peaches
2 golden peaches
3 tablespoons peach marmalade (or orange will work as well)
½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon lavender leaves
1 egg
2 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Slice all the peaches in similar size pieces and set aside.  Roll out the dough increasing the over all size about 2 inches.  Heat two tablespoons of the marmalade for easy spreading.  Spread the warm marmalade in the center of the pie dough, leaving about a 2 inch border plain.  Arrange the peach slices over the marmalade covering completely.  Sprinkle top with the thyme leaves and lavender.  Slowly fold the 2 inch border over tart, overlapping with each fold.  The tart is open in the middle with the dough boarder on the outside.  Create an egg wash whisking the egg with a bit of water and brush the dough boarder generously.  This will help the boarder brown nicely.  Sprinkle the entire tart with sugar and place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the tart is bubbly and the crust is nicely browned.  As it is baking heat the last tablespoon of marmalade with the brandy and lemon juice.  Cook on medium heat until the alcohol has cooked out and the mix reduces slightly (5 minutes or so.)  As soon as the tart is ready remove from oven and brush with the brandy mixture, this will give it a nice sheen, and keep the fruit from browning.  Serve with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.  Yum.

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