I'm not really a "look back longingly" kind of girl. I love the pictures and I love the people spawned in days of yore but am decidedly a bit sad for the "high school/college was the best four years of my life" crowd. Why sell yourself short?
That said, in college I was skinny and didn't have to pay for much myself. So that was pretty fun. My jobs during the school year consisted of working on the line twice a week at a local restaurant and working in a small gourmet food and wine shop. I spent my earnings at the latter using my employee discount to buy nicer wine than a 21 year old should really have access to. Fun Fact: I was hired to replace a girl named Katie who had just run off with Billy Joel. My closest counterpart at Main Street Gourmet was a cougar named Tina who spent her post-divorce summers in France and helped me plan my post-grad adventure. Life was good. Life was also frequent tanning appointments (I'm so sorry, skin), peppermint patty shots, huge hair down to my Lumbar and an inescapable lust for the phase of my life I'm in now. So...balance.
Anyhow, that was good, now is good and the only thing my current life was really missing that college TKTC had in spades is pictured at the top of this post. That would be the Smashed Salmon Salad of Kona Bistro fame.
Oxford, Ohio is not a big place nor a terribly worldly one. It's a small town of cobblestone streets, Georgian brick and the freshly scrubbed faces of Midwestern youth (unless it was between 7am and 11am on a Friday morning when the parade of blotted eyeliner stumbling out of 27 fraternity houses was not aptly described as "freshly scrubbed"). There was no sushi. No masala. No vegetarian plate. There were delicious steamed bagel sandwiches, slices of Bruno's and Skyline 3-ways (chili+spaghetti+cheese...not the pre-7-11am on Friday variety). But then there was Kona.
Kona became a beacon of good eating for me in college. Nice enough to take your parents (my mother demanded it) but affordable enough for a weekly takeout habit. Macadamia nut encrusted tilapia, Ale-marinated flank steak and for $8, I could get heaven in a black takeout box. Heaven in the form of Smashed Salmon Salad.
In trying to describe my deceptively addictive nirvana to Jaimeson, I started looking for pictures to show him (already wheels a-turning on how I could recreate). Turns out that Smashed Salmon Salad exists in a time before cell phone cameras. A Flickr search got me no further. My adult world suddenly couldn't go on any longer without Smashed Salmon Salad in it. Little did I know the simplicity of what was sought- only two of these layers require any cooking whatsoever and it was basic.
Smashed Salmon Salad (a recipe at long last; serves 2)
2 skinless salmon fillets (about a pound total)
2 TB Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2TB of jarred Mango preserves (my specific variety was mango-pineapple-peach because that's what was available in my jam aisle. I bet apricot would work too. What I'm telling you is that if it's orange and a little fruity, it's a good thing)
3 TB olive oil or grapeseed oil
5 medium red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1/4 cup whole milk or half-n-half (or whatever you prefer for mashed potatoes)
2 TB butter
1TB Greek yogurt, sour cream or crema
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 handfuls of baby spinach, long stems removed
1 cup of matchstick cut carrots (sold this way by the celery sticks and shredded cabbage in the refrigerated part of your produce aisle)
1 Roma tomato, sliced
1) Combine Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup of preserves in a small bowl and whisk till combined with a fork. Bust out your favorite marinating dish (8x8 square glass baking dish works for me. Or a zip-top freezer bag). Pour marinade over top of salmon, ensuring all surfaces are covered. If using a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap. Let salmon marinate in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
2) Put your potatoes on to boil. Cook them till pieces or easily pierced with a fork and tender. About 20 minutes. Drain, return to pot, cover and set aside.
3) Add oil of choice to a large saute pan and let it warm up before adding the salmon fillets. Cook the salmon at medium heat for 5-6 minutes, enough time to get a nice golden crust on one side. Flip the salmon and loosely cover the pan with its top so the heat building will help the salmon cook through. Check the middle of the salmon 5-6 minutes later for progress. The entire salmon-cooking process only takes about 12-15 minutes and depending on the thickness of the salmon, you may need to sear the sides as well. Pretty basic saute plan...I fear I'm making it sound more complicated than it is.
4) Once your salmon is done, shut off the heat but keep the pan covered. Shift your attention back to those potatoes. Add the rest of the "Mashed Potato" ingredients. This is my typical formula for mashed potatoes but use whatever you're used to...yes Matthew, that includes a box if you so choose.
5) Favorite part: The Compilation!
On your plate start with 1 handful of the baby spinach.
Add a generous helping of mashed potatoes on top
3-4 slices of Roma tomato, pressed into mount mashed potato
Freshly ground pepper and a little salt
A scant handful of carrot shreds
One gorgeous salmon fillet place atop (possible divided in half for balance
1 TB of your preserves spread evenly over the top of the salmon to finish
Enjoy with enthusiasm and a glass of whatever makes you the giddiest. I won't judge you if you have an inexplicable craving for an Amaretto Sour afterward. There's a little Oxford in all of us.