What to eat over the weekend? I complied a list of three menus for the holiday weekend to satisfy a variety of food preferences and tastes. One menu for the steak lover. One for food with a little heat. And a menu for a plant-based meal.
My focus for each menu is ease of preparation and the option to cook the main entrée on a grill. Each menu includes an appetizer, main course, vegetable side dish, and dessert. I hope each menu inspires you to cook for yourself and don’t be shy to mix it up a bit. The recipes are easy to scale up or down depending on your crowd. Or enjoy your leftovers for a later date.
Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to only these menus. Just search my archives listing the food you crave and hopefully you will find something to your liking.
It still feels like spring here in the Northeast, but now that it is Memorial Day, the summer has officially started. Let me know if you make any of these weekend menu ideas. I would love to hear from you.
Hope every one has a fun weekend with friends and family. It looks like a sunny weekend is in the forecast, perfect for lots of outdoor activity and grilling. If you make any one of my recipes post a picture on Instagram and tag me @lemonthymeandginger and #therecipename. You can also post a photo on my Facebook page. I would love to see what you create.
As the days get warmer and the garden blooms more steadily, my attention wanders outside. I so want to play hooky. Work and chores be damned, the sunshine is calling and I want to answer. My food and meal focus shifts to a less is more attitude, and prefer meals that are easy to prepare. One perfect dinner solution to help my wandering attention span is a dinner salad. And, it is even better when someone makes it for you.
My husband gets the credit for creating this dinner salad. Several years ago, Joe announced he is making dinner then left for the grocery store. Upon his return, he presented a bag full of vegetables and sea scallops. Joe informed me he was making a dinner salad with seared scallops and asked me to make the dressing. I am always a willing helper for any task. Since that time, Joe often makes this dinner salad of seared sea scallops and salad greens. It is one of the dishes he really likes to cook. Seared scallops with leafy greens is also a perfect meal for two.
A leafy green foundation is the canvas for seared sea scallops, boiled potatoes, asparagus, goat cheese and fruit. Along with the finishing touches of a simple vinaigrette and fresh herbs, this dinner salad comes together like a work of art. It is a polite salad, as no ingredient demands attention, but each one plays an important role presenting a delicious gift of prized sea scallops.
We use delicate greens like Boston Bibb lettuce, arugula or young greens as the salad base. They are not the typical composed salad greens, like romaine. Yet, these lighter lettuces work because each serving is plated, not tossed together in a bowl. This way the greens don’t get crushed under the weight of the ingredients. Also, included in the leafy foundation is another green vegetable, like blanched asparagus or green beans. They add crunch and structure to the delicate green lettuces.
There are so many elements in this salad, I am not sure which ones I like best. First, the sea scallops are lightly seasoned then seared for a crispy contrast to the rich briny center. Then there are the potatoes. They absorb a lot of flavor from the salad, especially the vinaigrette. I like to have a piece of goat cheese with each bite of potato. The blend of potato, creamy goat cheese and vinaigrette is one of my favorite flavor combinations. It is like having two salads in one, tangy and creamy potato salad and a green salad.
The fruit is the biggest surprise. There is nothing like a bit of sweetness and acid to cut any rich and fatty foods like the goat cheese and salad dressing. You only need a few scattered pieces, but it makes a big difference. Add in some fresh herbs and salad becomes exceptional and comforting, like the warmth of sunshine on your back.
There is one downside, putting the whole thing together takes some planning. The vinaigrette needs to sit for 30 minutes so all the flavors can blend and infuse. Fortunately, the vinaigrette rests while the potatoes and other ingredients cook. Like a lot of vegetable meals, each ingredient is prepared or cooked separately. The potatoes and salad dressing will take the longest, everything else is just a matter of a few minutes. The good news is, nothing needs to be served hot off the skillet. Although, time the scallops to finish cooking just before you are ready to plate the salad.
Enjoy this composed dinner salad on the days when the sunshine is calling you outside. It is a great dinner for your next date night in.
Dinner Salad is easily adaptable any season
Use the greens available in each season, like Boston Bib, arugula, baby greens, and leafy red and green lettuces.
Add fresh herbs like tarragon, basil, chervil, dill, chives, or fennel.
Strawberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines are great fruit during spring and summer. Pears, grapes, or oranges are perfect in the fall and winter months.
Additional vegetables like fennel, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, or spicy radishes are great in this salad.
Use a delicately smoked fish or tuna instead of the sea scallops. You may want to eliminate the goat cheese depending on the fish you use. Or add grilled steak or chicken.
Make with a light vinaigrette, not a heavy or creamy salad dressing
This is a delicious dinner salad with seared sea scallops, summer lettuce, potatoes, goat cheese and fruit. There is just enough of salt, acid, fat, and sweet for a truly composed and healthy meal. A perfect dinner for date night in.
Vinaigrette - Makes about 1 cup
1/4 cup / 60 ml good quality white wine vinegar*, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp minced shallot
1 tsp minced fresh herb like tarragon, lemon thyme, or basil
1 small clove garlic
3/4 cup / 185 ml olive oil
1 head Boston bib lettuce, cleaned and dried
4-6 baby new potatoes or fingerings
8 spears asparagus, or small handful of green beans cleaned and trimmed
1/2 apricot or peach*, thinly sliced
1 1/2 oz / 46 g soft goat cheese like Montrachet
1 TB fresh herb, the same one you used in the vinaigrette
8-10 large sea scallops
Kosher Salt for seasoning
1 TB Olive Oil
Cook the potatoes
Fill a medium sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the washed, whole potatoes to the boiling water and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Start checking at 10 minutes and every 5 minutes or so thereafter. When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and let cool. Once they are cool, cut into wedges and lightly drizzle, about a teaspoon or so, the potatoes with the vinaigrette.
While you are waiting for the water to boil start the vinaigrette.
Make the vinaigrette
Peel the garlic clove and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the green germ, then smash the clove with the side of your knife. Add the vinegar, minced shallots, smashed garlic, mustard, salt, and minced herbs to a small bowl and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Continue to whisk the dressing and slowly pour the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk the vinaigrette until it is well combined. Let rest on the counter for 30 minutes.
You will have more vinaigrette then you need. See notes on how to store the vinaigrette for later use.
Make the Salad
Blanch the prepared asparagus or green beans in salted boiling water. Boil the asparagus for 2 minutes, or if using the green beans for one minute. Drain the water from the vegetable and rinse with cold water. Set on a clean kitchen towel or back in the sauce pan, (off heat) to dry.
Just before the potatoes are finished cooking tear the lettuce into large bite size pieces and add to a bowl. Toss the lettuce with one tablespoon of the vinaigrette until evenly coated. This is just a light coating to season the lettuce. Set aside.
Place the sea scallops on a plate and carefully remove the muscle from its side. This is very tough when cooked. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel on both sides. Season the scallops with a pinch of Kosher salt on both sides.
Heat a heavy duty 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil and swirl it to evenly coat the pan. When the pan is hot, but not smoking, add the sea scallops to the pan flat side down. Sear the scallops for 2-3 minutes without touching or moving them. Adjust the heat if the pan is getting too hot. Turn the scallops over and sear for 1-2 minutes until the scallops are done. Scallops about an inch in size will be done very quickly about 3 to 4 minutes. They are done when the center is opaque in the middle, and feel firm when pressed with your finger. When in doubt, cut a scallop down the center and check. The scallop won't go to waste, just add it to the salad. The scallops will continue to cook from the residual heat, but you want to remove them when they are just done.
Plate the salad
On each plate, place half of the seasoned lettuce. Arrange the seasoned potatoes, asparagus, scallops, and fruit on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle small clumps of goat cheese over the salad and fresh herbs.
Remove the garlic from the vinaigrette and give it a good whisk. Pour into a spouted serving dish. Add additional dressing as needed to each salad. You will have plenty of salad dressing leftover to use for another salad.
* This is a light vinaigrette and not one to use balsamic vinegar. If you have a good quality red wine vinegar it is OK to use. I just have not found one I like, so I usually don't cook with red wine vinegar.
The vinaigrette makes about 1 cup / 250 ml so you will have plenty leftover. Store the vinaigrette in an air tight container in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette will taste better, and last longer, if you remove the shallots from the vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over a fine mesh strainer into a container to catch all the shallots.
Discard the shallots and refrigerate the vinaigrette.
If you want to thoroughly emulsify the vinaigrette, it is easy to do with an immersion blender. The vinaigrette made with a blender will be thicker and heavier. I like this salad with a lighter dressing so I mix it by hand and not worry about the dressing being emulsified. It is your choice. Make the salad dressing as you prefer.
Growing up in California I got an early introduction to Mexican Cuisine. My first introduction to Mexican food came from Mom, but was by no means authentic. We all loved Mom’s tacos despite the fact her secret ingredients were McCormick’s spice mix and store-bought crispy taco shells. At some point, she fried fresh tortillas and that is when her tacos were really delicious. Regardless as to how bastardized her tacos were, they caught my attention to learn more. If I’m truly honest, my love for Mexican food really generated from my love for avocados.
As I acquired more experience in the kitchen, it became clearer just how complex and exquisite Mexican cuisine is. All one has to do is analyze a mole sauce to understand the intricacies of this delicious cuisine. The ability to balance and blend layers of spices, nuts, seeds, chilies and cocoa to taste as a single sensation, requires a lot of time, nuance and skill. Mole sauce is the shining star, not one specific ingredient. Bravo Mothers and Sisters of Mexico, I tip my hat.
Years ago, I gave myself the challenge to study and learn how to cook Mexican Cuisine. However, after reading the book and seeing the movie, Like Water for Chocolate (one of my favorites), it occurred to me how much effort is involved preparing Mexican cuisine. As much as I love to cook, the prospect of spending my whole day doing it, lost its appeal. Since then, I felt the weight of this daunting task, so I am taking baby steps.
Several years ago, I started cooking with fresh chili peppers. Either fresh or roasted, green chili peppers have a bright flavor that reminds you of summer even on a blustery cold winter day. I love cooking with fresh chilies, especially in White Chicken Chili. The recipe may have its origin in the US, but it uses techniques found in Mexican cuisine to make the most of the chili flavor. I love the bright, grassy-pepper taste.
Recently, I was looking for a recipe to share that was not too complicated to make. Several of my Mexican food recipes require extensive preparation and multiple recipes to pull it off. Luckily, I made a discovery of a creamy poblano chili sauce. This is a recipe that will give you honest Mexican cuisine flavor without having to spend all day making it. I’ve read, poblano cream sauce originates from an “essential” Mexican food foundation, Poblano Rajas. Rajas means slices in Spanish, and this fundamental dish is composed of slices of roasted poblanos and white onions.
This recipe is from, More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Rick Bayless has done a lot to educate Americans about the qualities of Mexican food. From the first time I watched his PBS TV show, it was apparent how much he loves Mexican cuisine and respects the culture and people. Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy and Alex Stupak are my current go to references for learning about Mexican food.
What I love about Poblano Rajas and turning it into a creamy sauce is how easily it fits into modern cuisine and everyday life. Turning vegetables into a silky sauce is a brilliant idea. Roasted poblano chili sautéed with onions and puréed with Crema Mexicana, or crème fraîche, makes a delicious and luxurious sauce without being too rich or heavy. Despite smoke from roasting the poblanos, it is a bright tasting sauce. The poblanos come through distinctly. A perfect accompaniment to spoon over chicken. It’s tempting to add more herbs, like cilantro, but that would mask the poblano chili flavor. For this recipe, less is more.
Three ways to roast a Poblano Chili
The best tasting method is to roast poblano chilies over an open fire on a grill. Place the chilies on the grill and turn them over every few minutes. The goal is to get an even all over char without over cooking the peppers.
Another method is to place a poblano chili directly on a burner of a gas stove. Turn the pepper with tongs, as you would on the grill, to evenly char and blister the poblano on all sides. This method creates a good char like you get from a grill, but you can only roast one pepper at a time.
The third method, is to place the poblano chilies on a sheet pan and roast them under a broiler. The only drawback is, it takes a little longer to get a good even blister around the chilies and can cook the peppers more than desired.
If you want to have great Mexican food without spending all day making it, then Poblano Chili Cream Sauce is a great way to start. This sauce dresses up any grilled meat or fish for a party or weeknight dinner. Next, I am going to try this sauce for breakfast with scrambled eggs and avocado toast. Something tells me I will not be disappointed.
I would love to hear the creative ways you serve Crema Poblano Rajas.
Taste of Mexico: Poblano Chili Cream Sauce with Grilled Chicken
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Category: Sauce for Entree/ Entree
Poblano Cream Sauce is a delicious sauce made from Poblano Rajas, a traditional Mexican food. It combines roasted poblano chilies with onions, herbs and crema Mexicana to create a bright and smooth sauce. Crema Mexicana is like creme fraiche and sour cream.
This light cream vegetable sauce is perfect served over any grilled meats or fish.
Poblano Cream Sauce Recipe is from More Mexican Everyday by Rich Bayless
3/4 cup / 185 ml creme fraiche, or Crema Mexicana**
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts*
1/2 - 1 tsp Kosher salt
2 Tsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice from half a lime or lemon
1/2 tsp dried garlic or 2 fresh garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Roast the Poblano chilies
Roast the poblano over an open flame of a grill or stove. Use tongs to turn the poblano peppers over so each side is evenly blistered and charred. You want a good sear over the peppers without over cooking them. The process will take around 5-7 minutes per pepper.
If a grill or gas stove is not available, turn your broiler to high. Place the poblanos on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil and place under the broiler. Watch the peppers and turn them over to get an even char, about 10-15 minutes total.
Once the poblanos are blistered and blackened, remove from the flame or broiler and cover inside a bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Rest for 10 minutes or until cool.
Remove the skin from the poblanos by peeling it off with your fingers. The skin should easily peel where it was blistered. Remove the stem, core and seeds. If necessary, rinse the stubborn seeds away with running tap water, but only very briefly. You do not want to rinse away the delicious charred flavor.
Slice each pepper into 1/4 inch strips about two inches long. Set aside.
Prepare the chicken
Pound the chicken breast with a meat pounder, or the palm of your hand, to even out the thickness of each breast. Sprinkle each breast on both sides with Kosher salt and set aside.
Mix the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and all the spices in a large bowl until evenly combined. Add the chicken to the marinade and mix with your hands to get an even coating over each chicken breast. Cover the bowl and set aside.
Make the Poblano Cream Sauce
Place a skillet on medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Before the oil gets to the smoking point add the sliced onion and sauté until lightly browned with some crispiness. About 7 minutes. Stir the onions occasionally so they don't stick to the pan or get too brown in parts.
Add the minced garlic and oregano then stir. When the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stir in the poblano peppers and creme fraiche, or Crema Mexicana.
Cook and stir until the creme fraiche has thickened and evenly coating the vegetables. This should only take a few minutes.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Remove the vegetable mix from the skillet and place in a bowl of a food processor, blender, or high sided bowl if using an immersion blender. Blend the creamy poblano and onions until it becomes a silky-smooth sauce. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin out the sauce if needed.
Once smooth, add the creamy sauce back into the skillet and turn the heat to low. Adjust the seasoning and add water, or creme fraiche, or stock to reach your desired thickness. The water will not dilute the flavor, but in makes it very bright and clean tasting. Add any liquid you are using in small increments to make sure you do not water it down. This sauce has some body to it and not runny.
Grill the Chicken
Heat up a stove top grill pan or outdoor grill. Add the chicken to the pan (or grill) and cook for around 10 - 15 minutes depending on how thick your chicken pieces are and how hot your grill is. For a cross-hatch pattern, place the chicken on the grill at an angle over the rack or pan. After about 2-3 minutes, adjust the chicken at the opposite angle. Cook for 3 more minutes. Turn the chicken over and repeat on the other side. The chicken is done with the juices run clear out of the holes made with a fork. No pink colored meat. You should also feel no resistance from the chicken as the fork goes through the meat.
Putting it all together
Plate the chicken and spread the Poblano cream sauce across the middle of each piece. Pour additional sauce in a container to serve at the table.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs will work well.
Crema Mexicana is similar to creme fraiche. Sour cream is also a good substitute, but should be thinned with a little heavy cream. To make your own Crema Mexicana heat 2 cups of heavy cream until warm. Do not boil. Pour the cream into an airtight container, like a ball jar with lid, and stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk. Seal the jar and let it steep for 48 hours. You can use after the first 48 hours of fermenting. Store the Crema Mexicana sealed in the refrigerator up to about three weeks.
If using as a condiment, like for tacos, allow the crema to come to room temperature before serving.
Crema Mexican recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupek
Scattered across my wooded hillside, a native wildflower called Trout Lily is now in bloom. Their yellow bell shape flowers gaze down upon their mottled green leaves, like a swan gazing at its reflection upon the water’s surface. Trout Lilies are the best alarm clock around. A silent wake-up call with a blooming declaration, “No more hibernating. Spring is continuing as planned.” As soon as the trout lilies are up, even sudden changes in temperature or snowfall, won’t deter the season’s purpose.
Every year, larger patches of trout lilies emerge, scattered about my yard like a ragged crazy quilt disguising the dried leaves, fallen sticks and emerging grasses. My wildflowers did not choose a hospitable home, and it’s a wonder to me that they return and mature every year. The hillside is steep and the colossal deciduous trees suck away any nutrients the soil provides. Yet, these trout lilies like it here and that makes me happy. They give me my own little piece of wilderness, camouflaged in Suburbia.
Rumor has it, Trout Lily, got its name because the mottled leaves resemble the speckled coloring of Brook Trout. Another theory is, they bloom at the beginning of trout fishing season. Regardless of the origin of its name, I wanted to honor “my” trout lilies and this blossoming season. Featured today is a recipe for a Spring dinner with Rainbow trout as the main attraction. Unfortunately, where I live in the Northeast I cannot get Brook trout because they are diminishing in population. Fortunately, farm raised Rainbow trout is easily available and a best choice selection according to Seafood Watch.
A Spring dinner of Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill, served with herbed couscous and asparagus, is one of those dinners you don’t have to fuss over or plan for. Just assemble, and put in the oven. There is very little chopping and you don’t have to worry about being precise, (except for the couscous). As always, be careful not to add too much salt, and this dinner will turn out perfect every time you make it.
Substitutions are hassle free as well. If you prefer, change the dill with tarragon, fennel fronds, parsley, or add all the above. Additionally, you can replace dry vermouth with dry white wine or lemon juice. Though, I hope you try vermouth in this recipe. It nicely rounds out the flavors and tones down the acid from the lemon. Most importantly, make sure you use dry Vermouth.
My favorite way to prepare trout is to enclose each fish, or filet, in foil packets and bake in the oven. The fish steams in the packets and produces delicate flaky meat with herb infused juices. I stuff each trout cavity with lemon and dill, then add vermouth for some moisture. This is the same method I used for Salmon with Spinach Butter Sauce. Also, you can make Arctic Char with Basil Sauce using this same technique. Trout, salmon and char belong to the same family and most of the recipes for them are interchangeable with minor adjustments.
Farm-raised rainbow trout is usually sold whole, cleaned, butterflied, and each weighing near one pound (453 g). Depending on the size, one whole fish equals one portion. To me, that seems like a lot of fish. Therefore, I select rainbow trout about one pound in size and consider it enough for two portions. Honestly, they are not large portions, but served with fulfilling side dishes, like couscous and asparagus, a light, healthy and satisfying dinner is at hand.
For a light starch side dish, Couscous is perfect with rainbow trout. It has a slightly nutty taste with a light and fluffy texture. Fortunately, couscous falls in the top 10 list of easiest foods to make. Simply add boiling water to dried couscous, cover and let it steam for 5 minutes. Luckily, I just discovered a simple technique that makes fluffy couscous from Herbivoracious.com. It works better than the directions on the back of the box of couscous. Instead of steaming the couscous in a sauce pan on the stove, it uses a shallow baking dish, large enough for the couscous to cover it in a thin layer. This brilliant idea gives the couscous more surface area and prevents the miniature pasta from getting sticky. It is my experience cooking couscous in sauce pans, that it gets very gummy towards the bottom of the pot.
Another perfect side dish with rainbow trout is, my recipe for asparagus with orange mayonnaise. It has delicate citrus flavor and easy to prepare. For an extra bonus, make the mayonnaise ahead of time for you to enjoy throughout the week. If you wish, you can keep the asparagus hot, and not add it to the ice bath, as directed in my recipe. Additionally, add a little more lemon zest or juice with the orange mayonnaise for more citrus flavor. I also love saffron aioli with asparagus, and it pairs well with the rainbow trout as well.
Fortunately, it does not take a lot of effort to create an elegant and healthy Spring dinner. With little effort, all portions of the meal can be prepared at the same time. For its ease of preparation and flexibility, rainbow trout with lemon and dill, couscous, and asparagus with orange mayonnaise is an excellent choice for the days when you want to spend your time outside. You can get your day in the sun and later enjoy a meal reminiscent of your playtime. The air is so refreshing now, and lots of earthy wonders to discover. I hope you have a chance and enjoy the blooming Spring days ahead.
2- Shy one pound / 453 g Rainbow Trout, cleaned and butterflied*
1-2 lemons, sliced thin across the width
6-8 springs of fresh dill
2 Tbs dry vermouth
2 tsp butter
Extra Virgin olive oil
Heavy duty aluminum foil for making the packets
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
1 cup / 190 g dried couscous
1 cup/ 250 ml boiling water
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp butter (optional)
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1-2 tsp of minced fresh dill or another herb
Pre-heat the oven to 400˚F / 200˚C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the center.
If you wish you can cut the heads and tails off the rainbow trout, (or have your fish monger do it).
Cut 4 pieces of foil, at least 6 inches / 16 cm larger than each fish. Set aside.
Open the trout so both sides are lying flat with flesh side up, then lightly sprinkle the fish with Kosher salt. Scatter small pieces of butter across the flesh, about 1 teaspoon per fish. Lay two or three slices of lemon on one side of the trout. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh dill and top off with another lemon slice. Enclose the lemon and dill filling by moving the unadorned filet over the herbs, like closing a book. Repeat with the other trout.
Take two pieces of foil and place one on top of the other with the dull side up. Drizzle about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil across the center of the foil and smear with your hand to create a nice even coating of olive oil. Place two lemon slices in the center on the foil, then place the seasoned trout on top of the lemon slices. The trout should be centered on the foil. Add a sprig of dill to the fish and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of vermouth. Sprinkle the trout with a pinch of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons.
Bring the long sides of the foil together and fold over into itself, to create a sealed seam. Twist each end tightly to seal the pockets. Set on a rimmed baking sheet.
Repeat with the other rainbow trout.
Place the baking sheet with the trout in the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The timing will depend on how big the trout is and how much stuffing there is. I start checking at the 15-minute mark and check every 5 minutes thereafter. To check, carefully unfold one of the foil packets, being careful to keep your face away from the escaping steam. Lift the top filet of trout with a fork or fish spatula and peer inside. Look near the spine and where the flesh is the thickest to see if the flesh is cooked through. The fish is done when the flesh looks whiter than it is pink, and is flaky. The meat springs back when you touch it, and no longer looks translucent.
To serve, carefully open the foil packets and gently lift the fish onto a plate. Open the trout up and cut down along the spine with a sharp knife. Place one filet on a plate and drizzle the rainbow trout with some of the accumulated juices. Serve with couscous and Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise.
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
Pour the dry couscous in a baking dish large enough for the couscous to cover in one layer less than ½ inch / 1.5 cm. (My dish was oval shape 7" x 10", 18 cm x 25 cm. Any dish will work just be careful it is neither too big or too small).
Sprinkle the couscous with Kosher salt, butter, minced dill and lemon zest. Gently mix together with a spoon or your clean hands.
Boil the water and pour it over the couscous. Stir with a spoon, then tightly cover the dish with plastic wrap. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Once the time is up, unwrap the dish and fluff the couscous with a fork, scrapping the couscous across the dish until it is evenly loosened and fluffy. Keep covered until ready to serve.
You can have the fish monger cut of the heads and tails if you prefer. Or you can leave the fish whole. You can also prepare trout filet with this technique as well. The cooking time will be less, so start checking them around 10 minutes.
In the US roast pork has several names: roasted pork, slow roasted pork, pulled pork, Italian pork roast, Roman Style pork roast, the list goes on. In Italy, especially central Italy around Rome, roast pork has one name, Porchetta, [por’ ketta]. According to Wikipedia, Porchetta , the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali has designated Porchetta to be a “traditional agricultural-alimentary product” of Italy.
Traditionally, Porchetta is a major production to make. A whole pig is gutted, deboned, massaged with garlic, lemon, wild herbs like fennel, and sometimes other meats. Then it is reshaped and cooked on a spit over an open fire. It is a meal that is served for a celebration, as well as a street food sold out of vans. Currently, you can find white vans all over Italy, but especially Rome, selling Porchetta sandwiches from the van. A special occasion meal turned Italian street food for the world to love.
I have yet to enjoy a Porchetta sandwich in Italy, but I am confident someday I will. Until that time, I can make a scaled down adaptation of Porchetta in my home. You don’t need to break down a whole pig, and you don’t need a fire pit with a rotisserie to enjoy this meal. Thanks to the fortitude of Italian immigrants and enterprising chefs, like Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, us homebodies can create this Italian Roast Pork without it being a major production.
Following a recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I started making my roasted pork with a pork shoulder. I had the butcher butterfly it to easily spread the herbs throughout the pork, then refrigerated the pork to marinate overnight. I baked it in the oven the next day with root vegetables. The final result was a scaled-down Porchetta, a succulent roast pork with golden crispy skin and filled with herbs and lemon.
Judy Rodgers does not butterfly her pork shoulder. Instead, she creates pockets throughout the pork shoulder to stuff with the herbs. I thought it would be easier to spread the seasoning all over the meat with it open in one big flat piece. I also wanted to have extra herbs to rub over the top layer of fat. Did I mention the golden crispy skin? The kind you want to pick at when no one is looking. Getting extra crispy and golden skin is one of your goals creating this roast pork.
Keys to Success: Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs
There are some key elements to keep in mind. First, Porchetta is all about the dark crispy skin. It is difficult to find pork shoulder that has not had the fat trimmed off. If you have a good butcher, then you can get quality pork with a thick layer of fat on top. Yet, if you are like me and dependent on the grocery store to supply your meat, you can still create succulent roast, but lacking some of the cracklings. Once the pork roast is tied, rub olive oil and any extra herbs over the top.
If you have a built-in rotisserie in your grill or oven, you are a lucky person. This recipe for roast pork shoulder is perfect for roasting on a revolving spit. The results will be closer to the traditional Porchetta, and you will get dark crispy skin all around your roast.
Several recipes for Porchetta have you cook the pork to an internal temperature of 180˚F/ 82˚C. However, this recommendation comes from chefs who are sourcing high-end quality pork. It is not the pork commonly available, and affordable, to the average person. Pork roast, cooked to 180˚F is a well done piece of pork. If you cook with pork sourced from a small farm that allows the pigs to graze and bred for flavor, therefore has more fat, the high internal temperature should not dry out the pork. In my opinion, most grocery stores do not sell pork containing the same amount of quality fat. If cooked too long the roast will dry out. The best practice roasting standard pork, is to finish baking when the internal temperature reaches 160˚F -165˚F/ 74˚C.
Finally, traditional Porchetta is stuffed with wild herbs. If you have fennel pollen, or know where to get some, I highly recommend substituting the fennel seed with fennel pollen. You will not need as much fennel pollen, because it is more concentrated in flavor. It is not too overbearing because there is more of a floral flavor in the pollen, than an anise one. I love to use fennel pollen in roasts. It is also great sprinkled over goat cheese. If you do buy fennel pollen, it will be worth it as there are plenty of ways to use it up.
One does not have to go to Italy to enjoy Porchetta. You can make it right in your own home. If you do, thank your nation’s Italian heritage. They brought their traditional foods with them to have and share for their new life in a foreign country, and we have all benefited from their journey.
You will be more than satisfied if you take the extra time to season a pork roast with herbs and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator. The pork will be well seasoned and will develop great flavor. I never miss an opportunity to roast vegetables with any roast. Vegetables add extra flavor to the pan juices and get seasoned with the juices and fat from the roast.
Cooking time will depend on the size of your pork shoulder. If you have a temperature probe with your oven, you will be able to gauge the cooking time without always having to take the pork out and check it with an instant read thermometer.
One 3-4 lb Boneless Pork Shoulder, butterflied
1 tsp kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
Zest from 1 ½ lemons
18 leaves of fresh sage, crushed and minced
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, minced
3 tsp fennel seeds, gently crushed
1 ½ Tbs capers, rinsed and patted dry
Fresh ground pepper
1-2 lbs of assorted vegetables cut into large chunks for roasting, (onions, carrots, parsnips, fennel, turnips, potatoes, etc...)
1 cup chicken stock
2 - 3 Tbs Dry Vermouth or dry white wine
Open the butterflied pork shoulder with the top fat layer on the bottom and cut side up, and lie flat on a work surface. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt evenly over the whole section. If your pork shoulder is smaller than 3.5 pounds, use less salt. Let it rest on the counter while you prepare the herb mixture.
In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, lemon zest, minced sage, mince rosemary, fennel seeds, and rinsed capers. Stir and crush the herbs until evenly combined. Sprinkle the herb mixture evenly over the opened pork shoulder, reserving some for the top. Roll up the pork to resemble its natural shape, with the fat side up. Secure the pork with kitchen string by tying it in 4 or 5 sections around the width at one inch intervals. Make one more loop around the length of the pork, looping the string around a couple of the tied sections so the string will not slip off. Tie the ends and secure. Trim any loose string. Sprinkle the outer surface of the pork with the remaining herb mixture and ground pepper.
Put the pork in a dish, like a Pyrex baking dish, then loosely cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F / 175˚C / Gas Mark 4
Cut the vegetables into large bite size pieces or wedges. Place the vegetables in a medium bowl. Lightly coat them with olive oil and season with Kosher salt. Toss the vegetables to evenly mix.
Place the pork roast in a 12 inch - 14 inch oven proof skillet, or medium roasting pan. Add the vegetables around the pork. Put the pan with the pork in the oven and roast until done. After 45 minutes if you notice the roast is not browning turn the heat up to 375˚F /190˚C / Gas Mark 5 until the roast starts to brown. Then turn the heat back down to 350˚F.
After one hour of cooking, turn the vegetables around in the pan to get well coated with the rendered fat from the roast. Check the internal temperature of the pork. This will help you gauge how much longer you will need to bake the pork. Put it back in the oven. At the hour and a half mark, add ½ cup of stock to the pan. If you believe the vegetables are done, remove them before you add the stock. Add any extra herbs like rosemary or sage to the liquid. Bake until the roast is done, with the internal temperature of 160F -165˚F / 74˚C. The pork will be golden brown with crispy skin.
Make the pan sauce
Separate and remove the fat from the remaining pan juices. Add about 3 tablespoons of dry Vermouth and the remaining 1/2 cup stock. Set the skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spatula or spoon to dissolve all the caramelized bits. Skim off as much fat from the liquid as the sauce simmers. Carefully add any juice that has accumulated on the carving board from the pork roast to the pan juices. Taste and correct the seasoning and put in a spotted serving dish. The sauce could take around 5 - 10 minutes to make.
Remove the string that is tied around the length of the roast and the first string located closest to your carving end. Slice the pork into slices no thicker than ½ inch. Remove the strings as you carve.
It won’t take long to muscle your way through a big bowl of these spicy mussels. Chances are, your bowl will be empty before you realized you started. Eating this shellfish can consume ones’ attention, especially when they are steamed in wine, garlic, and spices. No one wants to miss out of getting every drop and morsel of the flavorful broth. It is a fun and messy affair, but well worth it.
I have grown to realize people either love mussels, or refuse to eat them. In the past, clams and oysters had a better reputation, because eating mussels was considered risky behavior. Only Gods like Hercules should eat them, for they were invincible to everything. For the longest time, I was a member of that camp. They just did not appeal to me. Fortunately, I have grown-up and changed my attitude.
When I was a child, I saw mussels everywhere anchored to pillars, rocks and boats throughout the intertidal zone. I believed they were the strangest creatures around. At low tide, I would play under the docks, looking for the perfect skipping rock and other hidden treasures. I saw colonies of mussels tightly glued on pillars, like bunches of grapes ready to be picked. Purposefully, I would attempt to pull one off, and always fail. How they managed to cling so tightly to every surface along the shoreline intrigued me. Their beards were thin and stringy, and I was dumbfounded at the holding strength of the tiny fibrous strands. If someone told me back then, mussels were alien creatures from another galaxy, I would have believed them. The thought of eating these sea creatures never crossed my mind.
Several years ago, I was researching healthy foods and mussels kept showing up as a superfood. Based on my research I became more open-minded to try them. After all, how can I have an opinion on something I know nothing about? Fortunately, I did change my mind, because now I love them. Unlike clams, they are very tender and slightly sweet with lots of protein, low in fat, and tons of beneficial nutrients.
There are many ways I like to prepare mussels, and this recipe with chorizo sausage is just one in a collection. One of the best aspects of cooking with mussels, is you do not really need a recipe to create a delicious meal. Exact amounts are not necessary. Put them in a pot with a little liquid and garlic and you have an easy dinner. My recipe is a little more involved than that, but still simple to execute. I have written this recipe as a guideline for you to learn the process and hopefully inspire you.
Tips for Success Cleaning and Eating Mussels
Where to get mussels? If you are lucky enough to know a secret spot along the coast where you live, this will be your freshest option. Please only take what you need and be aware of the health of the waters you harvest in.
The most available option is to buy mussels at the store. The ones that are most common are from, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mussels from PEI are farm raised, reliable and sustainable. They are also a great bargain with a 2 lb bag costing around $7.00. Harvesting date and best used by dates are provided on the label of each bag. Ask the fishmonger to pack them in ice, if they have not already done so.
Care and cooking: As soon as you get home, take the mussels out of the plastic bag and store loosely in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel. Put the bowl immediately in the refrigerator. No plastic wrap, and not submerged in water. If you are keeping them in the refrigerator for a couple of days, pour out any accumulated water from the bottom of the bowl.
When you are planning to cook the mussels, inspect each one and clean them. Most farm raised mussels come cleaned, but they still need a once over for stray grit and beards. Run cold water over the mussels and inspect for broken shells, grit and the beard along the straight edge of the shell. Slice off any stray beards with a sharp paring knife. Throw out any mussels with broken shells.
If a mussel shell opens, tap the top of the shell with your finger. If the shell does not close, throw it away. Store the clean mussels in the refrigerator in a bowl loosely covered with a towel until you are ready to cook them.
4 large main course servings, or 8 first course servings
Mussels steamed in wine, tomatoes, garlic and spices creates a delicious broth that will have you licking your fingers. The chorizo adds some warmth and kick to the mussels, providing more depth of flavor. If you are cooking for non pork eaters, this meal is just as delicious without the sausage.
Serve with a salad and lots of crusty bread to soak up all the sauce. You will need extra napkins.
2 lbs / 1k mussels
2 Tbs olive oil divided
1/2 lb / 225g chorizo sausage
1 shallot, minced
6 medium size garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1-1 1/2 cups / 250 - 375ml dry white wine like sauvignon blanc
8 tomatoes from a 28oz can of whole tomatoes (or 8 fresh plum tomatoes)*
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Small pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
two sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
Finely grated zest from one lemon, and juice from half a lemon
1 long strip of orange zest (optional)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
4 oz / 125g watercress, or arugula, or swiss chard, thick stems removed and rouch chopped
Before cooking, clean and inspect the mussels. Check for grit and stray beards. Discard any mussels that have broken shells and the ones that the shells remain open after tapping them with a finger. Put the cleaned mussels in a bowl loosely covered with a cloth, no plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until you are about to cook them.
Remove the casings from the sausage. Pour 1 Tbs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chorizo sausage and cook, stirring often to break the sausage up. Continue to break up the chorizo while the sausage cooks to get different size pieces that resemble cooked ground beef. Remove the chorizo from the pot and reserve for later. Taste the cooked chorizo to see how spicy the sausage is so you will know how to adjust the seasoning for your broth.
Add the remaining olive oil and turn down the heat to medium. Add the minced shallots and cook, stirring occasionally so the onions don't brown. Cook the sausage until they soften and look translucent, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until the garlic begins to release its scent, about one minute.
Pour in 1 cup / 250 ml of white wine and deglaze the pan. Allow the wine to boil down slightly for a couple of minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme bundle, pinch of saffron, orange zest, and lemon zest.
Cut the tomatoes into irregular bite size pieces, then add the tomatoes to the pot with the wine and onions. Reserve the juices from the can to thin the broth if necessary.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer the tomato sauce for 15 minutes so all the flavors blend. Half way through the simmering, taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need a small pinch of granulated sugar, (1/2 tsp) if the tomato sauce tastes to sharp. Add more salt, paprika and red pepper flakes if more punch is needed, or based on how spicy the chorizo is.
After the tomato sauce has simmered taste for the balance of flavors. Add more wine if the sauce need to be a little thinner. The mussels will also emit their own juices so don't make the sauce thin. Add the cooked sausage and turn the heat up to medium high. Bring the sauce to a full boil then add the mussels. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. No peeking under the lid for the first 5 minutes.
Serve immediately in bowls with crusty bread and a spoon, and lots of napkins. Mussels are best eaten the same day it is made.
If you want to cook with fresh tomatoes, cut plum tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Rough chop the tomatoes for irregular shaped pieces.
The meal can be made ahead of time up to the point of adding the mussels. Keep the tomato sauce in the pot covered in the refrigerator if you will be saving it for longer than one hour. Keep the mussels in the refrigerator up to the minute you are ready to add them into the pot to cook.
Have you ever heard of wild sea spinach? I hadn’t until I read about it in, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Henry. Wild sea spinach grows along the coastline of Ireland, and other countries in the UK. Another species of wild spinach grows in New Zealand and parts of Asia. Sea spinach is related to most cultivated beets. However, casting family lines aside, prepare sea spinach the same way as cultivated spinach. Darina has made me so curious about wild sea plants. I wonder how they taste and if they are salty from being bathed by the sea.
Anyway, I saw a recipe of hers where she prepares wild sea spinach in a butter sauce and serves it spooned over oven poached sea trout. Maybe I am a romantic at heart, but the idea of cooking vegetables and fish from the local coastal area made me want to jump into the cookbook and be there. If you read my post about crispy potato skins, you know about my fantasy wanting to forage wild plants with Darina. It is very possible this recipe could have been the one that got my fantasy in full gear.
In Darina recipe, she poaches a whole sea trout “en papillote”. This is a technique where you wrap fish in foil or parchment paper and bake it in the oven. I love to prepare fish using this technique. The fish is very moist and the natural juices accumulate in the pouches. I have never poached a whole fish en papillote before. My visual of a whole salmon wrapped in foil is rather massive and would be hard to handle. For my purposes, I decided to scale the recipe down.
Salmon filets are a great substitute for sea trout. I also believe arctic char or small rainbow trout would work too. Perhaps, I may have to go to the UK to get sea spinach, but now and then sea trout is available in our stores in the Northeast US. I substituted baby spinach to replace the sea spinach. It may not have the ocean saltiness, but the baby spinach has a wonderful smoothness and flavor in a butter sauce.
The spinach butter sauce is an adaptation of a beurre blanc, a French white butter sauce, and is traditionally served with fish. It is not difficult to make, but you must be patient and not let the butter get too hot. While I am whisking in the butter, I usually move the pan on and off the heat to control the temperature. It is important to keep whisking away until the butter is all incorporated. Your whisking, and keeping the temperature low, are the keys to get the butter emulsified in the sauce.
Baked salmon with spinach butter sauce is a delicate and rich dish. Because the spinach sauce must stay warm, and is not easily reheated, it is not a meal that can easily be made ahead. It is possible to cook the fish ahead and serve at room temperature. However, the spinach butter sauce must be warm. I have read that a thermos will help keep the butter sauce warm, or placed in a double boiler on very low heat. Ultimately, it is best to eat salmon with spinach butter sauce as soon as it is done.
This is an elegant meal, and I believe a treat to be served on occasion. Serve along with baby potatoes boiled in salted water then drizzled with olive oil and herbs. You need the boiled potatoes because whatever amount of sauce the salmon does not soak up, the potatoes will. You should not serve this meal with anything else that is rich and fancy. The spinach butter sauce is all the embellishment you need.
A delicious dinner of oven poached salmon with spinach butter sauce, boiled baby potatoes with parsley and chives, green salad with a light dressing, white wine, and good company. Your special dinner is ready.
Serving Size: 4- 8 oz servings or 6- 5 oz servings
Fish wrapped in foil or parchment paper packets, en papillote, then baked in the oven is a great way to cook fish. The fish stays moist and the natural juices accumulate in the pouches. The spinach butter sauce adds a luxurious element and compliments the fish nicely. Perfect with boiled baby potatoes.
This recipe is slightly adapted from The Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
5 oz / 150g baby spinach
2 lbs / 1 kilo salmon filet, or one side of arctic char
4 tarragon sprigs, divided
Fennel Fronds (optional)
¼ cup/ 60 ml dry vermouth or dry white wine (optional)
5 Tbs butter plus 1 Tbs
1/2 cup / 125 ml heavy cream
1 lb / 455 g fingerling potatoes
1 – 2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil
About 1 Tbs minced chives
About 2 Tbs chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 375˚F / 190˚ C / Gas Mark 5
Wash and remove the stems from the spinach. Blanch the spinach in salted boiling water for one minute after the pot returns to a boil. Drain the spinach then shock in ice water. Place the blanched spinach on a clean flour sack towel, or thin kitchen towel, to dry, then squeeze out all the water from the spinach. Finely mince the spinach and set aside.
Cut a piece of aluminum foil that is at least 6-8 inches (20 cm) longer in length, and wider, than your piece of fish. Lay the aluminum foil on a sheet pan, large enough to hold your piece of fish, and smear half a tablespoon of butter across the center part of the foil. Place the salmon on the buttered surface and smear, or dot, the surface of the salmon with a half tablespoon of butter. (If your piece of fish is larger or your a cooking a whole fish, you will need more butter). Sprinkle the salmon with salt and scatter half of the tarragon leaves over the salmon and some fennel fronds. (If you are cooking a whole fish, add the herbs and salt in the cavity of the fish). Add the vermouth or wine if using.
Cover with another piece of aluminum foil and fold in and crimp the 4 sides of the foil to create a tight seal.
Place the fish in the preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your fish. Start checking to see if your fish is done at 20 minutes. Press down on the top of the salmon at it thickest part. If it feels tender but firm with some give, then the salmon is done. Once the salmon is done cooking, take it out of the oven and let it rest in the foil for 10 minutes. You can take the salmon out of the oven slightly before it is done, as it will continue to cook while it rests.
In the meantime, mince the remaining tarragon and set aside.
Boil some salted water in a saucepan large enough to hold all your potatoes. Add the fingerling potatoes, whole, to the salted boiling water and cook until done. Depending on the size of the potatoes, they could be done between 10 and 20 minutes. The potatoes are done when you pierce them with a knife, and the knife slides easily in and out of a potato without resistance. Check several potatoes to determine if they are all cooked. Drain the potatoes, and when cool enough to handle but still hot, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, chopped parsley and minced chives.
While the salmon and the potatoes are cooking, make the spinach sauce. Add the heavy cream to a wide mouth saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Carefully bring the cream to a boil. Once the cream starts to boil turn the heat slightly down, simmer until the cram is reduced by half its volume, ¼ cup. Once reduced, add the minced spinach and remaining tarragon and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low then add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, to the sauce and whisk in completely. Once the butter is thoroughly whisked in, add another knob of butter then whisk and repeat whisking it in. Repeat until all the butter is emulsified in the sauce. While you are making the sauce, watch the heat carefully and whisk constantly, you do not want the butter to get too hot or it will separate or brown. Once the fish is rested, carefully pour out some of the juices from the fish into the sauce, then whisk until combined.
Place the fish on a platter and spoon the spinach butter sauce over the fish. Put any leftover sauce in a bowl for your guests to help themselves. Serve with the boiled potatoes.
I have a distinct food memory for Swedish Meatballs. Not the ones Mom made when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s. Her meatballs were made using the 1960’s secret ingredient in everything, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Now I enjoyed Mom’s Swedish meatballs, enough to order them in a restaurant as an adult, but hers had a familiar taste. They always reminded me of something we ate before, like the chicken enchilada casserole or baked chicken and mushroom dinner. Individual flavors did not stand out. Everything tasted “good” but that was it. No wow factor. My Swedish meatball memory is significantly different.
Joe and I were eating at a restaurant one night after a long work day. This was in the time before we became parents and could eat out during the week. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but it was a wine tasting bar and very different from all the restaurants in the Mt Kisco, NY vicinity. It was a great place to go. I loved their idea creating a bar focused on wine and served small plates. This restaurant was open before tapas and small plate establishments were popular. Sadly, the bar did not last very long. Maybe it was a restaurant before its time.
I ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon and a small plate of Swedish meatballs. They were a revelation. I have no idea if they were authentic or not, but the meatballs were bathed in a light cream and fresh dill sauce. The fresh dill in the Swedish meatballs changed everything for me. It transformed a rich and traditional meal, to a fresh and light dinner that was truly unexpected. Not a can of Campbell’s soup in sight.
Fresh dill and I have an on again off again relationship. When I was in my early 20’s I cooked with dill all the time. It got to be too much, so I stopped eating dill. Fortunately, I adapted and appreciate fresh dill not only with fish, but in stews and chicken. Every time I eat dill it surprises me, as if I had forgotten what it tastes like. The flavor of dried dill must still be seared in my brain. Thankfully, now when I eat fresh dill, it is always a welcome surprise and not a recurring nightmare.
Honestly, what excites me about cooking is using fresh herbs. Adding, fresh herbs differentiate food from the walking the same routine to dancing with happy feet. The fresh herb flavor elevates the meal to new levels and defines the foundation, like hearing Mavis Staples singing, “I’ll Take You There”. Food, like music, ground you and lift you up at the same time, and there is always a welcome invitation.
Recipe Development for Swedish Meatballs
Is my recipe for Swedish meatballs authentic? Maybe, I am not positive. Based on my research, traditional Swedish Meatballs are spiced with allspice or nutmeg, a blend of different ground meats, cooked in a gravy with or without cream, and served with Lingonberry Jam. I researched many recipes and used the similarities for my base recipe. My sauce is a total improvisation, but I believe it works. The sour cream in the sauce has such a wonderful and welcome tang. I would miss it if I made this recipe using heavy cream. Adding fresh dill to any meat dishes always adds dimension and pairs well with the lightly blended meat and sour cream.
Based on my experience making meatballs, I decided to try a different technique recommended by Daniel Gritzer from Serious Eats. Instead of baking the meatballs in the oven, or frying them in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of butter, I deep-fried them. Well, if you can call ½ inch of oil deep-fry, but this recommendation worked perfectly. The meatballs were evenly browned with a smooth round shape. The thin crispy exterior was the perfect thickness protecting the tender meat inside. Also, frying the meatballs got rid of my typical problem of having too much flour coating the meatballs. Joe is our in-house meatball expert and loved them a lot. He especially liked the contrast of the crispy exterior and the tender and juicy interior.
Whether or not my version can authentically be labeled Swedish Meatballs, I believe they are respectful to its history. What matters to me, is they are a welcome change and fun challenge for me to make. It is not a fancy dinner, but a pleasing one with enough distinct and delightful flavors to have its own identity. Careful, they are quite addictive. It was hard for me to stop nibbling them while I was photographing the Swedish meatballs. If Mom were here enjoying a dinner of Swedish meatballs with us, I am certain she would like them so much she would lick her plate clean.
Serving Size: 3 meatballs for an appetizer, 6-8 for dinner
Delicately flavored Swedish meatballs with a welcome tang from sour cream combined with a bright taste of fresh dill. Deep frying the meatballs creates a light and crispy exterior that protects the tender and juicy meat inside.
Serve Swedish meatballs with buttered egg noodles and a dark green vegetable.
½ cup whole milk
½ cup panko bread crumbs
4 Tbs butter, divided
1 small onion, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 tsp Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Handful of chopped parsley
Vegetable oil for frying
2-3 Tbs flour
1 Tbs oil used for frying
2 cups beef broth plus extra
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Kosher or Flakey Sea Salt to taste
Fresh Ground pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream
5 sprigs of fresh dill, minced
Put the milk and the bread crumbs in a small bowl and let them soak for a few minutes.
Add 2 Tbs butter to a small skillet and add the minced onions. Cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent and softened. Turn off heat and slightly cool the onions.
Add the ground beef, ground pork, milk soaked bread crumbs including the milk, the egg, nutmeg, minced parsley, Kosher salt, and ground pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor.
Mix on low speed until all the ingredients are just combined. Turn the speed to medium high and mix for about one minute.
Roll the ground meat mixture into small meatballs the size of a walnut, about 1 inch in diameter. Place the rolled meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. Wet your hands with water to keep the ground meat from sticking to your hands while you are working.
Turn the oven on to 200˚F and place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack.
Use a 12-inch skillet and pour in vegetable oil until the oil reaches a depth of ½ inch. Heat the oil to 350˚F.
Fry the meatballs until they are evenly golden brown and have the internal temperature of 160˚F. This will take about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of your meatballs. While frying the meatballs, turn the meatballs over so they get evenly browned. A fish spatula is perfect tool to guide the meatballs over. You will need to fry the meatballs in batches, and being careful not to crowd the pan. I cooked 9-10 meatballs at a time in my 12-inch skillet.
When done, remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon, or spider, and place on the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven. I found it easier to transfer the meatballs to the oven in two steps. First, I removed the meatballs from the skillet and placed onto a dinner plate. Then I used the plate to transfer the meatballs into the oven and roll them off the plate and onto the rimmed baking sheet. (The plate was also useful as a staging area to check the internal temperature of the meatballs. Additionally, if red juices dripped out of the meatballs I knew more cooking time was needed.)
Repeat frying the meatballs in batches until all the meatballs are cooked. Make sure the oil in the skillet reaches close to 350˚F each time you start a new batch.
Keep the meatballs warm in the oven while you are making the sauce.
In another skillet or Dutch oven, add 1 -2 Tbs of the oil used to fry the meatballs with. Add 2 Tbs of butter and turn the heat up to medium. When the butter is melted add 3 Tbs flour and stir into the butter with a wire whisk. Cook the flour and butter until the mixture is a nice light brown color and you do not smell the flour, about 2-3 minutes. Pour 2 cups of the beef broth into the butter and flour and whisk the ingredients until it is smooth and incorporated, do not let it boil.
Add the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and mix together. Taste for salt and add Kosher salt, a small pinch at a time, to correct the seasoning.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sour cream. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed. Add more beef broth if it is too thick for your taste. Place the pan back on the burner and turn the heat on low. Add the minced dill and stir.
Add the meatballs and mix together with the sauce. Correct your seasoning to taste and serve.
The meatballs can be made a head in two ways.
1- Cook the meatballs and refrigerate them until you are ready to serve them. When ready, make the sauce 30 minutes before you want to serve them, and heat up the meatballs in the sauce.
2: Prepare the meatballs and the sauce in a Dutch oven. Cool the Swedish meatballs, cover with the lid, then refrigerate until needed. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Put the covered meatballs in the oven and warm up. About 30 minutes. Check the warming meatballs to make sure they are not drying up. Add more beef stock if needed.
What I love about cooking is its split personality. Cooking requires technical precision, but also a certain amount of flexibility. It seems like an odd arrangement, but both precise technique and the ability to be spontaneous and adapt, happily co-exist when the heat is on. Technique, experience and intuition dance together and enlighten the cook toward a delicious masterpiece.
Inspiration and real-time situations influence a cook’s technical strengths and creativity. How many creative works of art and scientific truths have evolved out of “mistakes”? And, where would the world be without the creative spirit to “fix” them? I do my best to plan and be prepared whenever I start to cook a meal. However, I can’t tell you how many times I started cooking something and realized I was missing one or more of the required ingredients, the chicken went bad overnight, or had the wrong size pan. Damn, now what? A quick survey of the situation and my pantry, something unintended develops and who knows could be a new family favorite.
I rely on recipes I call my foundations. These recipes can easily adapt to any of life’s unexpected adventures, or my creative whims. One foundation recipe is Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel. I fall in love with roasted fennel every time I eat it, and this recipe is no exception. The subtle sweetness of the fennel compliments the richness of the caramelized shallots and roasted chicken. I will also seek out any excuse to use fresh tarragon. Still, the bones of the recipe allow me to develop many reincarnations at whim or by necessity.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is not complicated to make, or have a lot of speciality ingredients. A total bonus is, it does not require my full attention while it is cooking. Yet, there are a couple of technical factors that will influence the recipe’s outcome. The obvious one is knowing when the chicken is properly cooked. Undercooked chicken will make you sick and overcooked chicken is chewy and dry. The not so obvious influence is the baking pan.
Tips for Success making Oven Baked Chicken
In this instance size, does matter. The size and type of pan will determine how long the chicken will cook, and how it will cook. The higher the sides the more pan juices will develop. Too large of a pan and the juices will dry up. A pan that is too small will not allow for enough air circulation to achieve crispy skin and have the chicken cook properly.
I baked eight pieces of chicken with all the vegetables in a roasting pan that was 16″ x 11” x 1 1/2″ (41cm x 27.5 cm x 4 cm) in size. The finished meal was perfectly baked chicken with crispy skin, caramelized shallots and plenty of pan juices. Yet, being flexible is my mantra so use whatever baking pans you have. The size of the pan is more important, than the type of pan. Hopefully you have a baking dish with sides. If you only have small pans, divide the recipe between two pans. The outcome might be slightly altered, but more importantly you can still make this delicious baked chicken dinner without making a trip to the store.
Second, be observant and listen to the chicken with your senses. The chicken will tell you when it is done. Pierce the chicken at its thickest part with a fork, and take note about how much resistance you feel. The fork will slide through a perfectly cooked piece of chicken with little resistance. You should see clear liquid flowing out of the holes made by the fork. If you see cloudy or bloody juices spilling out of the chicken, the meat needs more time to cook.
Additionally, you can cut open the meat and look inside. It is better to cut across one piece of chicken then serve undercooked chicken to your friends and family. Chicken meat that is properly cooked, is not pink or appears raw. It should be juicy as well. The meat is overcooked if it looks dry and there are no flowing juices. The internal temperature for just cooked chicken is between 165˚F and 170˚F.
I like to follow the recipe exactly as instructed the first time I cook it. I learn about how to prepare a new dish and about the author. Learning new techniques is fun, but so is being creative and adapting to my set of circumstances. So, after the first trial run, I am comfortable adapting a recipe to fit my mood, or to what is in my pantry.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is a balanced chicken dinner accented with tarragon, vermouth, garlic and lemon. If necessary you can adjust the ingredients, including the amount of time to marinate the chicken. Don’t like vermouth, no problem switch it with a dry white wine. The fresh herbs are not available at the store, fear not and use dried herbs. Can’t find shallots, regular onions sliced into thin wedges will suffice. No time to marinate the chicken, no worries it will still taste fine if you mix everything together right before you cook it. The depth of flavor may not be as intense, but it will be satisfying and delicious.
Cooking a meal should not be stressful. I always say use what you’ve got and enjoy the process. Technique is your friend that sets the foundation but also allows you to be creative and adapt to any of life’s mistakes and adventures.
The combination of fresh tarragon, shallots, fennel and vermouth add subtle and sweet flavor to the baked chicken. If you have time, marinate the chicken and vegetables for one to four hours. Not to worry if time does not allow for marinating the chicken. The baked chicken will still be delicious.
Use a Pyrex like baking dish, roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet to bake the chicken. The pan should be large enough for all the chicken pieces and vegetables to fit in without being too crowded or too big.
8 Skin on bone in Chicken Thighs or combo of breasts and chicken*
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
8-10 cloves of garlic, divided
Zest of half a lemon plus 1 whole lemon cut into 8 wedges
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh tarragon
1/2 cup dry vermouth, divided
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 tsp honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 fennel bulb and fronds
8 small shallots
Trim the chicken thighs of extra skin and if using chicken breasts cut each breast in half. Arrange the chicken on a tray. Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with Kosher salt and let rest on the counter while you make the marinade.
Peel the garlic, remove the green germ, and mince half of the garlic cloves. Place the minced garlic in the mixing bowl. Strip the thyme and tarragon leaves from their stems and finely chop. Add the herbs to the bowl. Add the lemon zest, mustard, honey, olive oil, ground pepper and 1/4 cup vermouth to the bowl and whisk together until incorporated.
Cut the fennel bulb in half, remove the core and thinly slice the bulb, no more than a 1/4 inch. Reserve the fennel fronds and set aside.
Peel each shallot then cut each bulb in half. Set aside with the fennel.
Add the chicken to the marinade then use your clean hands and mix the chicken until each piece is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Add the sliced fennel, remaining garlic cloves, and shallots then mix them all together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate for 1 - 3 hours. Marinade the chicken in the refrigerator if longer than one hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 F, 15 minutes before you want to bake the chicken.
Spread the chicken, fennel and shallots over a large roasting pan that is just large enough to accommodate all the chicken without crowding the pan. You can slip the fennel under the chicken.
Place the lemon wedges around the pieces of chicken, fennel fronds and the remaining 1/4 cup of vermouth to the roasting pan.
Bake the chicken and vegetables for 20 minutes. Baste the chicken with pan juices and bake for 20 more minutes. Check to see if the chicken is done. The chicken is done when piercing the chicken with a fork, there is little resistance and the juices are clear. The internal temperature should be between 165F and 170F.
When done, remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve the chicken with the fennel, shallots and lemon, drizzled with remaining pan juices.
If you prefer, you can make this dish with boneless and skinless chicken thighs. Reduce the oven temperature to 400F. If the chicken did not brown as much as you like put the chicken and vegetables under the broiler for a couple of minutes. I do not recommend making this with boneless chicken breasts because they will cook to quickly and the vegetables will not be done. Boneless chicken breasts get mushy if they are marinated for more than an hour.
The roasting lemon wedges with chicken adds great lemon flavor. You can eat the lemon slice rind and all. Use only lemons with a thin rind. Too much lemon pith does not taste very good.
I am craving some cozy comfort and additional heat. My immediate options are to curl up wrapped in a blanket and read a sultry book, or I could build a fire in the fireplace and enjoy a nice cocktail with my husband. However, dinner is pressing and although I have been known to get passionate, no one can be comforting when they are hungry. A steamy pasta dinner comes to mind. Eating pasta is always comforting, and the heat can easily be added. Putting all my available ingredients together, I can create a pasta dinner with Brussels sprouts and sausage. A plateful of comfort and spice, all bathed in olive oil, garlic and hot red pepper flakes.
What I love about cooking with pasta is the ability to immediately create a meal with absolutely anything. If all you have in your pantry is a box of pasta and a can of tuna, a delicious dinner is at your fingertips. A no fuss, use what is available, pasta dinner. This recipe is an example of just that. I created a pasta dinner with spicy Brussels sprouts and sausage because, Brussels sprouts and sausage were my only options for dinner.
Our cupboards are not usually so sparse. We have all had those moments of staring blankly into the refrigerator or pantry, wondering what to make for dinner. Pizza delivery can often win out on such occasions.
I have to admit that for the past 33 years there has always been at least one box of pasta in my pantry. A box of pasta has saved the day more times than I can remember. With three sons who were all swimmers, a box of pasta always ready and available in my pantry, was an absolute necessity. These boys were always hungry. If I had pasta, additional vegetables, some protein, or a can of beans, I could squelch their hunger pains with a satisfying pasta dinner in 30 minutes.
I used to despise Brussels sprouts. They smelled bad, and in my opinion had a rancid flavor. Fortunately, my attitude was surprisingly altered. A few years ago, I tasted Brussels sprouts at a holiday dinner. The Brussels sprouts were bright green with a surprising sweet flavor and I had never tasted them like that before. Since that time, I turned into a devout fan. I realized that up until that point the Brussels sprouts I was familiar with were not properly cooked. In fact, they were overcooked. Unfortunately, this happened frequently to all the prepared vegetables of my youth, and I find it amazing that I have overcome my childhood disdain for them. If the Brussels sprouts are cooked properly, they will appeal to everyone.
Now a warm blanket of a delicious pasta dinner has enveloped me. The comfort of being with my family surrounds me, and my craving pangs are subdued. However, the idea of building a fire in the fireplace and enjoying a cocktail would be an added bonus. Reading a sultry book not a bad idea either. Enjoy!
Easy Substitutes for Pasta Dinner with Brussels Sprouts and Sausage
Substitute the Brussels sprouts with 1 head of broccoli or cauliflower. Cut the vegetables up into bite size pieces. You can blanch the broccoli in the pasta water before you cook the pasta, then add them to the sausage in the skillet. Be careful not to overcook the broccoli.
Substitute the sausage with 6-8 oz of diced pancetta or chopped bacon. Cook them until nicely browned.
Instead of pork sausage use chicken or turkey sausage. Depending on how they are prepared, keep the chicken sausage in its casings and slice them into bite size pieces on the diagonal.
For a lighter meal, replace the sausage with 6 anchovies filets. Add the anchovies with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir the anchovies so they dissolve into the olive oil.
For a vegetarian option add walnuts or pine nuts to replace the sausage. Toast the nuts, then add them when you add the pasta.
Add some extra sweetness by adding a handful of golden raisins. They are a perfect pair with the Brussels sprouts and pine nuts.
Pasta Dinner with Spicy Brussels Sprouts and Sausage
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
4-5 servings as a main course
Pasta Diner with spicy Brussels sprouts and sausage is an easy dinner that can be adapted to any taste. I prefer the heated spicy additions of a pasta dinner to be a background flavor and not overpower the meal. Add more or less of the dried red pepper flakes to suit your taste.
1 lb box favorite pasta, such as campanelle, penne, or farfalle
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
½ lb sweet sausage*, casing removed
3 cloves of garlic, green germ removed and minced
½ tea red pepper flakes
½ tea crushed fennel (optional depending on type of sausage)
1 lb Brussels sprouts
½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
Zest of 1//2 a lemon
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Fresh Fennel fronds minced (optional)
1 Tb butter
About ¼ cup reserved pasta water
Grated Romano Cheese for serving
Trim off the ends of each Brussels sprout, remove any discolored or loose leaves, and cut into quarters. Set aside.
Fill a stock pot with water. Turn heat to high and boil water.
Place a 10 – 12-inch skillet on a burner and turn it on to medium high heat. Add the olive oil. When the olive oil is hot and shiny, add the sausage. Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink and completely cooked through. Use a wooden spoon, or fork, to stir the sausage and break it into crumbly chunks. When just cooked through, turn off the heat and remove the sausage from the pan using a slotted spoon. Set the sausage aside on a plate, or in a bowl.
Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt and the pasta. Cook according to the directions on the back of the box, making sure the pasta is al dente when finished. Frequently stir the pasta to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
Turn the heat back on and add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and crushed fennel. Cook briefly until you begin to smell the garlic then add the Brussels sprouts and ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt. Stir to mix the Brussels sprouts with the garlic and red pepper flakes, then allow the Brussels sprouts to cook through and get golden brown on the sides. Add extra olive oil if the pan if it is dry.
Add the vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water to the pan then stir to combine. Cover the skillet with a fitted lid, and cook the Brussels sprouts until they become soft but still bright green, about 4 minutes.
Uncover the pot and turn off the heat if the pasta is not ready.
Once the pasta is done, collect about ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta back into the stock pot then add the sausage and Brussels sprouts. Stir to evenly combine then add the parsley, lemon zest, fresh fennel fronds if using, about 3 Tb of pasta water, and butter. Gently stir to combine.
Serve immediately while hot with grated Romano or Parmesan Reggiano cheese.
A lot of stores and brands make their own sweet or spicy Italian sausage. I have not discovered one that I really like. The sausage is usually seasoned with an herb or spice, or other ingredient that dominates the flavor. usually that added ingredient does not go well with what I am making. Often black pepper is overwhelming and I find it to be very bitter. Thus, I usually do not buy the store brand. I have had consistent results with Premio Brand, Sweet Luganiga Sausage, or their breakfast sausage. It is available at most supermarkets in my area. A breakfast style sausage, not Jimmy Dean, is another option. If you have a favorite sausage that you prefer, please use it. However, I recommend to taste and adjust the seasoning throughout the cooking process.