Salmon with Smoked Paprika and Preserved Lemons

This is one of my most favorite dishes, and it is a regular meal in my house, at least once every couple of weeks.  It is fast and easy to make and is at it’s best when there is fresh salmon at the market.  The flavors are so good and it pairs really well with wine, particularly a Pinot Noir.

I start with a good piece of salmon.  I ask the person at the fish counter (a fish monger perhaps) for the “top part” of a fresh looking salmon filet.  I find that the “top part” is more uniform in thickness, so it cooks more evenly.  If you have the “tail” section, it gets really thin at the end, while the “mid” section is thicker.  So you generally overcook the thin side trying to get the thicker section done.  I generally have better luck with “Fresh” salmon versus “Previously Frozen”.  I also find that the more fat in the salmon, the better the dish is.

The Salmon

For this meal I picked a King salmon filet that was fresh and farm raised.  The only reason being that it looked the best and most fresh of the salmon in the case.


First I rub the salmon with a lemon olive oil.  I found a really good one produced by Agrumato at an Italian market that has amazing lemon flavor.


Next, I coat the salmon with smoked paprika.  Coat is the key word here, I literally cover the salmon in smoked paprika.  I personally like the flavor of smoked paprika and for me more is always better.  If you have never tried smoked paprika, you must.  It is only slightly spicy, like normal paprika, with a nice lightly smoky flavor.


Preserved Lemons are made by curing lemons with salt for several days.  It seems to be a fairly easy process, though I admit that I just buy them at a local Whole Foods Market.  If you want to try making them, here is a recipe from Simply Recipes:

I take a Preserved Lemon and slice it, placing each slice on the salmon so that it is covered.

I also sprinkle the salmon with a smoked sea salt.  I use either Alderwood (Salish) or Applewood (Yakima) smoked sea salt.  Both Alderwood and Applewood are used to smoke salmon in the Pacific Northwest and both add a great nuance to salmon.

I place the salmon on a piece of foil and place it on the grill over medium heat.  The amount of time on the grill depends upon your grill and the thickness of the salmon.  I generally cook it until fat starts to form on the top of the fish (the white, thick creamy looking stuff).  Then pull it off and let it rest.


Asparagus with Tarragon

While the salmon was cooking, I prepared a side dish.  I trimmed some asparagus spears and placed them in a glass baking dish.  I sprayed them with olive oil and sprinkled dried Tarragon leaves on them.  I covered the dish with plastic wrap and placed it in the microwave.  I cooked the asparagus about 6 minutes total.  Stopping at 3 minutes to check them.  I like the asparagus to still be a little firm and crisp when they are done.


The Wine

One of the worlds great wine and food pairings is salmon with Pinot Noir.  These two flavors go great together.  If you want to try a Pinot Noir, try it with salmon and you will fall in love.  I picked out a 2006 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast.  The Sonoma Coast is an area north of San Francisco and West of Sonoma county.  It is a rugged area with lots of wind, cool temperatures and generally harsh conditions.  I find wines from the Sonoma Coast to have bigger flavors than wines from other Sonoma areas.  This wine was no exception.  It was fruity and complex with dark berry flavors, but with that unmistakable Pinot Noir flavor.  Pinot Noir typically has a fair amount of acidity (that feeling in your mouth when you bite into a lemon).  This acidity in the wine counteracts the oiliness of the fish, making them nice compliments to each other.


The Verdict

I have made this meal so often that it is really hard to mess it up.  The Salmon tasted great and was done just right, still moist and tender.  The addition of Tarragon to the Asparagus provided a nice compliment.  Tarragon has a slight anise flavor and somehow it worked really well with the Salmon and Smoked Paprika.  I also added a little more of the Alderwood smoked sea salt to the Salmon at the table.  The flesh of the Preserved Lemons gets a bit of a smoky flavor from the grill and the Smoked Paprika.  Eating a little of the lemon flesh with Salmon is also really good.  And the wine rounded out the meal just right.  A great meal.

I think you are going to love this dish.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.



Smoked Tri-Tip

Several years ago while living in Columbus, OH, we had a tradition called “Smokin Sundays”.  We would get together with friends, throw some type of meat on the smoker and drink wine until it was done, then drink more wine while we ate it.  It was always a great time, until Monday morning came around…

Some of those Columbus friends introduced me to a cut of beef called the Tri-Tip roast.  It is a triangle shaped piece of beef that you find at the bottom of the sirloin and usually weighs 1 to 2 pounds.  It is lean, tender and very flavorful.  The secret is to not overcook it since it can become dry and tough.  This is especially challenging because the “pointy” end is much smaller than the other end, so it is a balance to get both sides to an acceptable “doneness”.  But with a little seasoning or marinade and a quick flash on the grill, it is outstanding!

The Tri-Tip roasts cannot be found everywhere just yet, though as they become more popular they are beginning to show up in more grocery stores.  It is best to ask your butcher for one.  I have been finding them regularly at some Whole Foods markets here in Maryland.  They are also less expensive than many cuts of meat (usually just a little higher than a flank steak).

I was curious to see how a Tri-Tip roast would do with a slow smoking treatment, so I  decided to re-start the “Smokin Sunday” tradition here in Maryland, and smoke a Tri-Tip roast.  To pair with the smoked Tri-Tip, I wanted something cool like a simple potato salad and of course some wine.

Smoked Tri-Tip Roast

First, I started preparing the smoker.  I pulled out some maple wood chips and soaked them in water for about an hour.  I filled the smoker bowl with water and added about 3 large sprigs of rosemary.  Then I started the smoker (I have an electric smoker) and let it warm up for about an hour so the chips would begin to smoke.

I used a 2 lb Tri-Tip roast and rubbed it all over with olive oil.  Next, I coated the roast with San Juan Sazon spice blend from Urban Accents.

If you haven’t tried the Urban Accents spice blends, you should, they are amazing.  They have great flavor combinations and most blends do not include salt.  (I highly recommend the Bayou Barbeque on a ribeye steak!)  Here is the link to Urban Accents:

Anyway, the San Juan Sazon blend has a nice blend of sweetness and heat, with sugar, paprika, and turmeric, so I think it works well on smoked meats.

I let the meat sit for about an hour with the spice blend on it, then placed it on the smoker.  It took about 2.5 hours until the meat registered 130 degrees (medium rare) on a meat thermometer.  I pulled the meat off the smoker, tented it with some foil and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  Then I sliced it.



Potato Salad with Cilantro

While the meat was smoking, I prepared a simple potato salad.  I peeled about 6 Yukon Gold potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch cubes.

I placed the potato cubes in a microwave safe dish, added a Teaspoon of water, some salt and pepper.  Then I covered it and cooked the potatoes in the microwave on High for about 10 minutes total, stopping every 3 minutes to stir the potatoes.  Once the potatoes were done, I drained them and let them cool.

I diced 1 small sweet onion  and added it to the potato mixture.

Next I took about 3/4 of a bunch of cilantro and stripped the leaves from the stems.  I minced the cilantro leaves and added them to the potato mixture.

I stirred about a cup of mayonnaise into the potatoes and mixed it in.  Everyone’s taste for mayo is different, so I usually add a little and mix it up, then try the potato salad.  I keep doing this until it tastes good to me.  I added a little more salt and pepper, covered it and put in the refrigerator until the meat was done.  I pulled it out when the meat came off the smoker so that it would warm up before serving.



Since the meat was smoked, I wanted a wine that had some “smokiness” to it.  You usually get that from the wine being aged in charred oak barrels.  The amount of smokiness depends upon the type of barrel and the level of “toast” on the barrel (how much it was charred before use).  I also wanted a wine that would pair well with the spiciness of the seasoning on the meat.  So I picked a Syrah.  Syrah wines have a spiciness to them and are usually sturdy enough to stand up to very flavorful food.  I picked a 2005 DuMol Syrah from Russian River.

The Verdict

The whole meal was just fantastic.  The meat had a wonderful sweet, smoky flavor with a little spiciness.  It paired really well with the wine too.  The potato salad offered a nice contrast to the meat.  I had never made potato salad with cilantro before, but I really like cilantro and it made the potato salad a little different.  It also helped it stand up to the strong flavors of the meat.  Overall a great meal and a wonderful way to restart Smokin Sundays.

Try out a Tri-Tip roast on the grill or a smoker and definitely check out the Urban Accents spice blends.  Let me know how it goes.



Shrimp and Grits

Growing up in the Midwest, I never had Shrimp and Grits.  I really do not recall even seeing it on a menu.  In fact I’m thinking that it would have probably been “Shrimp and Mashed Potatoes” in the Midwest.  But, since moving to Maryland several years ago and spending more time in the Carolinas, I have come across Shrimp and Grits and seem to order and enjoy them at every opportunity.  So I decided it was time to try and make it for myself.

This meal was also a good challenge to pair a wine with, more on that below.

For the Shrimp

  • 1.5 lbs Shrimp (peeled and deveined with tails on)
  • 3 links (a little less than a pound) of Andouille sausage chopped into small chunks
  • 1  Vidalia Onion minced
  • 1 Garlic clove minced
  • 2 tbl Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 tsp Thyme
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tabasco Sauce (about 4 shakes)

Heat the Olive Oil in a deep skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute about 3 minutes until they soften.  Add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently until the sausage is brown.  Try to stir often enough so that the onions and garlic do not burn.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir  to create a roux.  Slowly stir in the chicken broth.  Once the liquid begins bubble, add the bay leaves, thyme, cayenne and black pepper.  Then add the shrimp and cook.  Be careful not to cook the shrimp too long or they will get tough.




For the Grits

I used Quick Cooking Grits (not Instant) and followed the package instructions.  The instructions called for water, but I substituted Heavy Cream for 2/3 of the liquid and Milk for the other 1/3.  I also added 2 tbl of Butter once the Grits were done (because butter makes everything better!).

I put a mound of Grits in the center of a large dinner bowl, then ladled the Shrimp, Sausage, Sauce all over the Grits and finished it with a sprinkle of Sea Salt.

Beware that this is a dish where both things cook quickly and need to get done at the same time, so it helps to have a helper!

What Went Right

Yumm, this dish was good and wholesome!  There were layered flavors and a little heat but not too much.  I was full after one serving but couldn’t stop myself from having a second.

What Went Wrong

Lack of self-control.

What I Would Do Differently

I believe adding the spices (bay leaves, cayenne & black pepper, tabasco) earlier in the process, with the onions and garlic would have given the dish more flavor.  Also, I cooked the roux for only a few minutes, so it was a light brown color.  I will probably cook it a little longer, perhaps to a medium brown to give it a little more flavor.

Wine Pairing

This meal presented a unique wine paring opportunity.  On one hand, you have shrimp, cream and grits – all mild foods you would normally pair a white wine with.  But it also had the andouille sausage, pepper and tabasco, which would normally call for a spicy red wine.  So I decided to try both and compare the two wines to see which one went better with the dish.  Here are the wines I selected:

White Wine – 2010 Tablas Creek Vineyard – Patelin de Tablas Blanc – Paso Robles, CA.  This is a white Rhone blend containing Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  If you have not tried Rhone white wines from the California Central Coast, I urge you to check them out.  They are great alternatives to Chardonnay and much better with food (at least for my tastes).

Red Wine – 2008 Tercero Wines – Cuvee Christie – Santa Barbara County, CA.  This is a red Rhone blend containing Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  These are typically called “GSM” wines and you see them from Australia, California, etc.  Again these are really great food wines and I find these wines from Tercero to be very drinkable and also a great value.  Check out their lineup here:

I was expecting that one wine would stand out and that it would probably be the red.  However, both wines were really good with the dish.  The white provided a nice refreshment from the heavy and spicy flavors, cooling the palate.  The acidity and weight of the wine kept it from disappearing when taking a bite of the Shrimp and Grits.  The red really stood up to the flavors in the dish and added a nice fruity compliment.  The acidity and soft tannins paired particularly well with the andouille sausage.   Not able to choose one winner, we had to finish both bottles with the meal (oh the price of research!)  Further proof that there are no hard and fast rules in wine and that you should experiment to find flavors you like.

Give the Shrimp and Grits a try and let me know how it turns out!  And let me know if you find other wine pairings that you enjoy with it.


Tandoori Arctic Char

About a year ago I visited a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Washington, DC called The Source, (  They had an appetizer that I really liked, Tandoori Arctic Char.  Arctic Char is a wonderful fish with light orange flesh and a great flavor that I find similar to salmon.  The fish was prepared with Indian Tandoori seasoning and was so good that I have been thinking about it ever since.  So, I decided that I needed to try it at home.

I didn’t follow a recipe for this meal, I just made it up as I went along, so my notes on how I prepared it are below.

I purchased an Arctic Char filet, rinsed it and rubbed it with olive oil, then coated it with Tandoori seasoning.  I used the Penzey’s Spices Tandoori Seasoning and coated the fish heavily with it, placing it into a glass baking dish.  Then I covered it, put it into the refrigerator and let it sit for 2 hours.

I pulled the fish out of the refrigerator and let it warm up for about 30 minutes.  Then I poured canned Coconut Milk over the fish, covering it.  I also lifted up the fish and put a little Coconut Milk under the fish.  Then I added a little more Tandoori Seasoning on top.  I let this sit while I started working on the rice.

In a medium pot, I added 4 cups of Chicken Broth and began heating it up.  I cut up 1 bunch of Green Onions into 1/4 inch slices and added them to the Chicken Broth.  I also peeled a 1-inch piece of Ginger root and sliced it into 1/4 inch slabs, then added them to the Chicken Broth.  Once the broth was boiling I added 2 cups of Basmati rice (basically followed the package directions for water to rice ratio).  The directions said to stir the rice and broth, then reduce the heat, cover and leave it alone – so I did just that.

While the rice was cooking I put the Arctic Char under the Broiler at 500 degrees.  I cooked the fish about 10 minutes or until the fish flaked easily and the coconut milk browned.  Then I pulled the fish out, covered it and let it rest until the rice was done.

I also cooked up a little Kale to add a vegetable and some color to the meal.

What Went Right

Well, everything for once!  The fish was very moist and had that great Tandoori flavor I had been craving.  The coconut milk added a nice creamy touch to the dish also.

The ginger and onion flavors of the rice were a nice complement to the Tandoori seasoning giving the meal a nice Asian flare.

What Went Wrong

Hummm, there wasn’t enough fish I guess – really could have kept eating this all night.

What I Would Do Differently

The Source dish came with a Cardamon Raita which I tried to replicate with the Coconut Milk.  I might actually try making the Raita next time and cook the fish “dry” with just the Tandoori Seasoning, just to see how that tastes.


For this meal, I poured a Pinot Noir from California (Radio-Coteau I believe).  I find that Pinot Noir goes really well with Asian food and frankly I was just in the mood for a red wine.  You could also go with a white wine here, perhaps a Chardonnay (a rich, lightly oaky style) or a Rhone style white like a Roussanne.  The Pinot Noir however worked really well with the full flavors of the fish.

Give it a try and let me know if you enjoy it as much as I did.


Velvet Falernum

There is a local wine store here in Maryland that has been holding spirits tastings over the past few months, letting people try different vodkas, gins, rums, etc.  In a recent tasting I was introduced to a new liqueur called Velvet Falernum – a rum based liqueur from Barbados.  It is sweet but has a unique spice flavor to it, apparently from cloves and other herbs.  It is a unique and very good taste that I really like.

I have developed a winter-time taste for rum based Manhattans using a dark rum, a good sweet vermouth (such as Dolin) and old fashioned bitters.  So I decided to try my favorite Manhattan with Velvet Falernum to see what would happen.  Ummmm!  It was a great change of pace.

The Velvet Falernum was sweeter than the vermouth I usually use, so I had to dial back the amount.  And since the Velvet Falernum had some spice flavors, I also cut back on the amount of bitters used.  Here is the recipe I used:

  • 1.5 ounces of dark rum (I used Blackwell Jamaican Black Gold Special Reserve)
  • 1 to .75 ounces of Velvet Falernum liqueur (use 1 oz if you like sweet drinks, if you like less, go with the .75)
  • 7 dashes old fashioned bitters (I used The Bitter Truth Old Fashioned Bitters, my favorite)
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake
  • Pour into a martini glass and enjoy!

I have been trying to come up with other uses for the Velvet Falernum and found several on the Internet that look promising.  I think it would also be a good addition to a Mojito, used in place of the sugar syrup.  I plan to try that as soon as the fresh mint is available.


Five-Spice Duck with Fregola and Balsamic Jus

I love duck and have been craving duck breast with Chinese Five-Spice powder for weeks.  Something about the richness of duck meat and all the different flavors of the five-spice were just calling me.  So I found a recipe on and generally followed that with a few tweaks to make it my own.   I also picked up some Hibiscus powder on a recommendation from a friend and thought it would be a really good addition to the duck.

Here is the link to the Epicurious recipe:


I decided to prepare the duck with just the spices in the recipe rather than trying to incorporate the Hibiscus powder.  I planned to add a small amount of the Hibiscus powder into the wine/balsamic jus to give it a more fruity / sour flavor, which sounded like it would really compliment the duck.

To round out the meal, I wanted something that we could pour the jus over and soak up the duck juices.  We had a bag of Fregola, which is a pebble shaped pasta and decided to do it risotto style, which is slowly adding warm chicken broth and stirring until the pasta becomes soft and creamy.  We also cooked a small butternut squash to add some color and a vegetable.


For a wine, Pinot Noir is a great match with duck and the recipe suggests a Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma.  I decided to open the DuMol Aidan Pinot Noir from the Green Valley in Sonoma.  I wanted a darker and fruitier wine to stand up to the sauce with Hibiscus powder.


What Went Right

The duck was cooked really well, a perfect medium rare.  The duck breasts I used were thicker than those in the recipe so I had to increase the oven roasting time by another 10 minutes (20 minutes total in the oven).

The Fregola turned out great.  We actually sauteed a few green onions before starting the risotto process, which gave the pasta a nice little flavor kick. The creaminess of the pasta was a very good contrast to the duck.  Would definitely do this again.

The wine was very good, but didn’t exactly match the flavors of the meal – more on this below…


What Went Wrong

The duck did not have much of that Five-Spice Powder flavor I was craving.  I think since the duck breasts were thicker, I should have increased the amount of spice.  I would definitely increase the amount by half next time and perhaps cut the duck breasts in half to give more surface area for the spices.

The wine / balsamic juice was terrible.  Adding the Hibiscus Powder made the sauce gritty and gave it an unpleasant sour flavor.  We decided to abandon the sauce and remake a wine / balsamic reduction.  It didn’t have much of the duck drippings however, so it lacked a lot of the richness I was expecting.


What I Would Do Differently

More Spice!  As I mentioned, more spice and better coating of the duck breast to really give it that Five-Spice flavor.

Skip the Hibiscus Powder since it really clashed with the Five-Spice Powder.  I will probably try duck breasts with just Hibiscus Powder because it really does seem like it would pair well with duck.


Well, my first recipe post is out of the way.  I learned a lot including that this is harder that I thought.  Time to step up the game.  So look for new and improved posts coming soon.


My First Recipe Post…

Before I began this Flavor Blender blog, I studied a number of food and wine blogs to get ideas, find styles, etc.  They all made it look so easy.  Recipes that worked perfectly, food that tasted great and looked amazing, and beautiful photos of the process and finished results.  “I can do that” I recall saying to myself.

So imagine my surprise when I attempted my first recipe for this blog over the weekend and things didn’t go so well.  Hmmm a learning process indeed!

So I have been thinking about how to post this first attempt and have decided that perhaps just telling the whole truth would be best.  My “challenges” might just save someone else from those same things.  It also confirms that things don’t always turn out perfectly.  So for this post and probably for most posts I’ll include “What went right”, “What went wrong” and “What I would do differently” sections.  I also realized I need to improve my photo skills.  Most of my pictures turned out like a middle school art class still life.

At least I have a lot to work on and improve.  So look for better posts in the future.  For now its a work in process.