Dinner Party for the January Blues: Baked Salmon with Fresh Herbs, Wine-Braised Lentils, and Poached Pears

We’re in the very midst of bleak midwinter here, and I’ve been craving herbs. My heart full of longing for fresh-out-of-some-lovely-field-herbs I’ve packed my crisper drawer full of fresh-off-some-air-plane-from-far-away-herbs. I just can’t get enough of them. I’ve been grabbing leaves by the handful and flinging them¬†across¬†everything I eat. You’d be surprised just how much that splash of green brightness helps to drive away any lurking midwinter blues. Fruit helps too. Plenty of fruit in bowls in front of chilly windows.

This past Saturday, with six of my friends scheduled to come over for dinner, I woke up craving herbs (and lemon zest) again, and planned my menu accordingly. A whole fillet of rich wild salmon was marinated in a simple pure of garlic, the juice and zest of a meyer lemon, parsley, rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then baked till just done and served with a yogurt, lemon, olive oil, mint, parsley, and dill sauce. French lentils were braised with leeks and thyme in plenty of white wine and a splash of orange juice, then mixed with a heaping cup full of diced fresh parsley and mint just before serving. For dessert, inspired by a recent meal at al di la, I slowly poached pears in white wine and sherry, then served sprinkled with fried sweet rosemary and some tart whipped cream. My friend Ryan produced a show-stopping salad to start off our meal of baby arugula, juicy persimmons and pomegranate seeds, crunchy roasted hazelnuts, doused in a appropriately sweet vinaigrette (I wish more people understood that the key to a good vinaigrette is add sugar- thank you Ryan!). And for mopping up that yummy dressing, Julia baked us a loaf of fresh gluten-free bread.

This was a good dinner party. We stayed up too late laughing too hard and playing charades, and my friends actually did all the dishes for me.

I figured out a great trick for prepping pears for poaching: use an ice cream scoop! Very clever, very easy. See?

Pears Poached in White Wine, Sherry, and Ginger with Rosemary

Bosc Pears (a half per person)
White Wine
Sweet Sherry
Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced (about 2 slices per person)
Fresh Rosemary Sprig
1 Tbs. Butter
Raw Pure Cane Sugar
Whipped Cream or Creme Fraiche (or a mixture of both!) for serving

Peel the pears, slice in half, then hollow out the center using an ice cream scoop (or a sturdy metal spoon) as picture above.

Put the prepared pears and ginger slices in a heavy pot and pour enough white wine over so that the pears are almost submerged. Now add a splash of sherry. Cook, covered, over low heat, for about an hour, until the pears are soft and the steam no longer smells alcoholic. Set aside until ready to serve.

Heat the butter in a skillet until frothing, then fry the rosemary sprig just until crisp, about a minute. Immediatly dredge the rosemary in a handful of sugar, and set aside to cool.

Pour the remaining poaching juices out of the poaching pot into a small saucepan and add some sugar. The amount of sugar you add should about equal the amount of poaching liquid. So if you have about a cup of liquid, add about a cup of sugar, then heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to get syrupy, about 10 minutes.

To serve, spoon the hot syrup over the pears, add a dollop of whipped cream, and garnish with a sprinkle of rosemary leaves ( and any rosemary-scented sugar that may have fallen off the rosemary sprig).