Prior to meeting Rich, I had a serious addiction to the Food Channel. If I was a bit down, nothing made me feel better than seeing an episode of Rachel Ray or getting caught up in the dramatics of Iron Chef. My passion for the channel hasn’t waned so whenever Rich is busy and it’s an hour or so before bedtime, I sneak into the bedroom and tune into a food show.
On Sunday night, I saw the finals of the National Wedding Cake Contest at the Oklahoma Sugar Show. The winner, an instructor at the Culinary Institute in Austin, Texas, made an Indian-influenced cake. The cakes were extraordinary, some of which took a hundred or more hours to decorate with intricate piping, ornate flowers (out of sugar), and folds of fondant, and decorations out of sugar paste and other ingredients.
A week ago, I ordered a small cake from a specialty bakery to celebrate Rich’s and my meeting six years earlier. It’s was the perfect excuse to splurge on a mini wedding cake, complete with two large rose buds out of sugar paste that I placed in a glass jar for prosperity or until they start to turn moldy. The cake, which we ate over four nights, had two inches of dark chocolate ganache inside. Splendid indulgence.
The day before our anniversary, I decided to make a special dinner. Since I was running very short on time and wanted to prep everything before Rich got home (around 7:30 p.m.), I quickly jotted down a menu based on what was in the refrigerator and freezer – frozen salmon and shrimp, dried cranberries, a yam, some zucchini and broccoli, a handful of string beans, a bag of pears, a pomegranate lurking by an onion and other fresh produce, and some hearty herbs in my garden. It took around 40 minutes to prep then shove everything towards the back of refrigerator.
The next day, I rushed home and tried to act nonchalant as I started cooking and staging the plates. Rich, for some reason, felt it was necessary to run downstairs every five minutes and ask what I was doing. Earlier, when I got home from work, he’d recommended getting pizza so I could spend the evening getting ready for an interview with Microsoft the next afternoon.
His pestering muddled my concentration and the order in which I needed to get everything done… like the salmon. I’d yanked some rosemary stems off the bush, laid the salmon on top, added some lime juice, covered the pan with foil then tossed it into the oven. Twenty minutes earlier, I had put a pan of sliced yams, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes in olive oil, spices and crushed garlic in the oven. I thought the vegetables would take at least 30-40 minutes to cook. Nope, they were practically done.
Not panicking, I finished setting the table and placed the cake in the center with some candles. My appetizer of marinated shrimp looked nice on a leaf of romaine with sliced red onions and thin strips of carrots. I’d combined the shrimp with super finely chopping red bell pepper, celery, red onion, garlic, and thyme (it’s one of the few herbs still a live in the garden) along with aji mirin, chili oil, and a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and salt.
I then pulled the vegetables out of the oven and groaned when I saw the half-cooked salmon. Thinking quickly, I moved up the rack and set the oven for broil while hollering for Rich to come downstairs.
Rich, like so many men, often fails to realize that the year is punctuated by anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. Standing behind the corner, I watched as he came down the stairs and spied the candle-lit table. I could see the cogs turning in his head until the answer like a long-lost file appeared, "It’s our anniversary," he blurted out!
At least, he remembered!
As we ate our shrimp, I tried not to think about the salmon. It was a relief when I opened the oven door to find the salmon was slightly caramelized and the rosemary wilted. I proudly placed it on the plates with a drizzle of the dill sauce I’d made the day before along with my roasted vegetables and some lightly seasoned steamed broccoli.
It was the best salmon I’ve ever eaten. I’m now convinced that the secret to great salmon is to bake it until partially done then finish it under the broiler. And use fresh rosemary!
For dessert, prior to cutting into the cake, we had sliced pears with a cranberry sauce (made from reconstituted dried cranberries) and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. I keep my pomegranates in the refrigerator. Like expensive caviar, I stingily use the seeds in salads and deserts.
I can’t wait for the next occasion to celebrate with mini wedding cake and a tasty meal.