We are getting antsy for grilling season here in North Carolina. That’s not to say that it has been entirely too cold to grill. My husband and I have a 60°F cutoff—we are good to go with grilling as long as the temperature is in that range but so far this “spring,” it has been hit or miss. I put some burgers on the grill just last Wednesday but over the weekend, an unexpected blast of wintry mix left my already-in-bloom daffodils shivering in the beds out front, and a freeze warning last night forced me to lay blankets and towels over my emerging peony shoots. Just when we thought it was warm for good—go figure!
Until we get some consistency in the weather department (feel free to yell “amen” if the skies are screwy at your house, too), we are stuck cooking indoors. Luckily, we have one of those “griddle in the middle” things on our gas range, which affords us an easy indoor option for light grilling. The heavy cast-iron griddle is removable (and reversible), intended as a swap-in for the grate that would normally cover a wide gas burner, but we use the griddle so frequently that it has become a permanent fixture. The flat side is perfect for making pancakes, reheating pizza slices or crisping up a grilled cheese sandwich. The flip side is great for quick grilling jobs, like the mouth-watering, marinated tuna we put on these tacos.
Though I grew up eating tacos and other Mexican cuisine, I had never heard of fish or shrimp tacos until I was an adult, and it was a marvelous epiphany! Unlike the greasy ground beef-and-cheese tacos of my childhood, these beauties are light and flavorful, and I love dressing them up with fresh veggies and a squeeze of citrus. For us this time, it was shredded cabbage tossed with bottled avocado ranch, pico de gallo, scallions, avocado and cilantro. It’s a whole new category of comfort food—easy and fresh, with lots of great texture! Les likes a little dollop of cool sour cream, too, and it sure makes for a pretty picture.
The most important flavor component of this meal was, of course, the tequila-lime marinade. Besides the namesake ingredients, I whisked in fresh garlic, red wine vinegar, chili powder and agave for a bright, punchy flavor on the tuna, and another departure from the heavy flavors I had always associated with Mexican food.
The critical rule for marinating in citrus juice is simple: keep it short and sweet because the acids in the lime juice will turn seafood into ceviche if they mingle too long. I gave it 30 minutes in the marinade, which was just long enough to pour a Mexican lager, prep all my toppings and pre-heat the griddle.
Fresh tuna is best (and most tender) when cooked to medium rare, and you should let it rest a couple of minutes before slicing or chopping it for tacos.
While the tuna is resting, toss your corn tortillas onto the hot grill long enough to warm them and apply some grill marks. Store-bought tortillas are fine, but if you have some time and a little bit of patience, it’s worth the effort to make them yourself. I shared a post for handmade corn tortillas a while back; feel free to check that out for some tips to make it a little easier (and in fun flavors).
If you don’t have an outdoor grill or in-range griddle, or if unexpected wintry mix shows up out of nowhere, cast-iron grilling can save the day. If your range doesn’t have this option, a grilling pan or range-top griddle are both good options. I don’t recommend using them indoors for very high-fat foods (unless you enjoy degreasing your entire kitchen after a meal), but for veggies, fruit, pancakes, eggs and light seafood, cast iron on the stovetop produces excellent results.
The marinade is the star of this recipe, which brings freshness and flavor to Taco Tuesday!
Up to 16 ounces fresh tuna steak (marinade will cover this much; plan for 4 ounces per person)
2 Tbsp. silver or reposado tequila* (see notes below)
Juice of 1 small lime
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder blend
1 tsp. kosher salt (less if your chili powder includes salt)
A few twists black pepper
1 tsp. agave syrup* (or sugar)
3 Tbsp. olive oil or avocado oil
White corn tortillas, for serving
Desired accoutrements (we used shredded cabbage, thin radish slices, cubes of avocado, bias-cut scallions, cilantro leaves, pico de gallo, sour cream and lime wedges)
Note: Silver tequila is clear and has a very clean, crisp flavor; reposado is golden in color and has a slightly smoky flavor. We used reposado tequila for our tacos, and it was delicious. Agave is my preferred sweetener for this marinade, as it is the same ingredient that powers the tequila. But in a pinch, sugar is an easy substitute.
In a glass measuring cup, combine the tequila, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, seasonings and agave. Whisk in olive or avocado oil to create a cohesive marinade.
Place tuna steak(s) into a shallow glass dish or plastic zip-top bag. Pour marinade over steaks, turning several times to ensure good coverage. Let the steaks marinate for 30 minutes while you prep your accoutrements.
Pre-heat a grill pan to medium-high. Oil the grates, and then remove tuna from marinade, allowing excess liquid to drip off. Place the steak on the grill and cook about 2 minutes, until first side is seared and displays nice grill marks. Turn steaks over and cook the other side the same amount of time. Transfer to a warm plate to rest 5 minutes while you heat the corn tortillas on both sides on the same grill pan.
Move tuna steaks to a cutting board and chop into bite-sized pieces. Assemble tacos and enjoy!
My husband, Les, and I love taking road trips, and since COVID began, that’s how we have done all of our travel. Our trips may be lengthy, like our 10-day tour of Jersey, Connecticut and New York back in 2021, or quick weekend getaways to one of our beautiful North Carolina beaches. Regardless of length and destination, our trips all have a few things in common; we always have good music and snacks for the drive.
And then, there’s the ritual of departure from our home, which for me always goes something like this:
Load our main bags into the car (Les does this part, and I do the rest)
Do a walk-through of every single room of the house to be sure we aren’t forgetting something important
Set out instructions for the pet sitter
Give the dog a pat on the head and tell her she’s in charge of the house while we’re away
Wink at the cat, who knows she’s actually going to be in charge
Do another walk-through of the house to be sure nothing electric is plugged in
Make a quick trip to the bathroom
Confirm with husband that my bag is already in the car
Double check on pet supplies to be sure my notes for the sitter match what’s in the cabinet
Argue with husband, who keeps yelling from the garage to “COME ON!”
Confirm the front door is locked
Get in the car (finally)
My backpack goes behind Les’s seat (so I can reach it), and it usually includes a couple of food magazines, my iPad, laptop, charger cables, bottled water and whatever road snacks Les picked up at the convenience store when he stopped to gas up the car. All of this, even for a four-hour car ride!
When we make one of these road trips, we throw dietary caution to the wind and load up on some junky snack foods that we would never eat any other time. I mean, junk— like pizza-flavored Combos, cheap chocolate bars, bold and zesty Chex mix, or these honey-mustard and onion pretzel pieces (one of my faves).
I have no good excuse for loving these things. It’s the kind of ultra-processed snack I avoid 99% of the time. But I was raised to waste nothing, so after we get home from wherever we went, I don’t want to just throw the remains away. The leftover candy might go into Les’s lunchbox during the work week, but in the case of pretzels, chips or crackers, I can almost always crush them up and use them to coat a piece of fish or chicken.
The balance of sweet honey, salty pretzel and savory mustard works really well on salmon fillets, and it’s easy to prep this and pop it into the oven while you steam or pan fry a side vegetable. In past times, I’d simply brush a little bit of mayonnaise onto the fish before pressing it into the pretzel crumbs, but I’ve invested some time this past year learning new culinary techniques. I’ve made no secret of my crush on Kenji López-Alt for the scientific approach he takes in the kitchen, and his technique that I call the “miraculous mayo marinade” has become one of my go-tos.
A tiny bit of baking soda added to a seasoned mayonnaise mixture creates a chemical reaction that delivers more flavor into the protein you coat with it, and also helps to keep the protein (in this case, salmon) super moist and juicy after cooking. I used this simple chemistry trick to infuse my skinless salmon fillets with fresh garlic and dill, then I pressed both sides of the salmon into the crushed remains of the honey-mustard and onion pretzels.
About 20 minutes in the oven, and the salmon emerged with a golden, crunchy coating and moist, juicy interior. The fresh dill in the marinade was a perfect complement to the tangy mustard in the pretzels, and the flavor was so tantalizing, it may be tough for me to wait until our next road trip to make it again!
This recipe is very simple, and makes the best use of the crumbs at the bottom of a snack food bag. If you don't have these pretzels, try it with tortilla or potato chips!
2 portioned fillets of salmon, skin removed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated on microplane
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup honey-mustard and onion pretzel pieces
Preheat oven to 350 F, with oven rack in center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone liner.
Combine mayo, garlic, dill, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add baking soda and stir for a few seconds to ensure it’s evenly distributed in the marinade.
When the mayo mixture appears frothy and bubbly, spread it evenly over both sides of the salmon, and let the salmon rest for about 20 minutes.
Place pretzel pieces inside a paper bag or between layers of parchment. Use a rolling pin to gently crush the pieces into smaller pieces, but not to the point of powder. Spread the crumbs out onto a plate or the parchment. Press the salmon into the crumbs on both sides.
Arrange salmon fillets onto lined baking sheet. Scatter any leftover crumbs onto the salmon pieces and gently press to adhere.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on size and thickness of salmon fillets.
Regardless of one’s religious bent, the season of Lent presents plenty of opportunity to try new seafood dishes. For those abstaining from meat, a fresh idea on the dinner table can help prevent boredom with the same fish dishes over and over for 40 days. For everyone else, it’s simply a healthier meal option—never a bad idea, and especially when we are headed into Spring.
This nutritious, colorful dish has lots of flavor (and heat, if you want it), but is easy on effort, calories and budget. You can have it on the table in under half an hour, too!
Rainbow chard is one of nature’s superfoods, a leafy green packed with vitamin K (good for our bones), iron (for healthy blood cell production), antioxidants (to reduce inflammation) and manganese (for brain and nerve support). On top of the health benefits, chard is very versatile in the kitchen. It can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed or braised. You can add it to everything from soup to an omelet, or even use its leaves to wrap up other ingredients, the way you might use cabbage leaves. I braised it this time, and made it a bed for a crispy, pan-fried trout fillet.
I used the whole chard in this dish, but I separated and chopped the hard stems to give them a 5-minute head start in the pan. To save time chopping the leaves, I stacked and rolled them, and then sliced the roll like a giant chiffonade.
The stems were sautéed in a bit of extra virgin olive oil along with a couple scallions (the only onions I had in the house that day), and then I lined up three of my favorite complementary flavors—coconut milk, spicy Asian Reds pepper flakes and ginger. One of my favorite freezer-section discoveries has been these little cubes of crushed ginger. I can never use up a whole root (even a small one), and these come in very handy.
When the chard stems were tender, I added the leaves a handful at a time and cooked them until they wilted. My coconut milk had a ton of oil solids floating on top, so I scooped those out for another use* (see my note about this after the pictures)—and only the liquid went into the pot to braise the chard. After only a few minutes, the coconut milk softened up and absorbed some of the color from the chard stems. I love the way these ingredients merge together!
*You may as well know, when I say that I set aside some portion of an ingredient “for another use,” it often means I put it into the refrigerator and flat out forget about it. I cannot count the times I have dug around in there, looking for something else, and realized that I missed the freshness deadline on some ingredient I was sure I’d use. If I’d had a can of “light” coconut milk, this would not have been an issue. The full-fat version of coconut milk tends to add a stronger coconut flavor (not what I was going for). Anyway—
I sprinkled the trout fillets with salt and pepper, and then gave them a flip in flour sprinkled with more of the Asian Reds pepper flakes. I fried them in a little oil until crispy and browned, and then plated the fish on top of the chard and spooned the lingering coconut milk over the top. If you don’t mind a few carbs alongside, this would be great with steamed rice.
So, I’ve called my dish “double rainbow” because the fish counter at my supermarket had labeled this trout as “rainbow trout,” though I didn’t notice any signature rainbow stripes on these fillets. Sometimes, I get the feeling my supermarket is fibbing a little bit, or maybe they don’t know the difference, or they think we don’t. The bottom line is that any trout will be fine for this dish, and of course, another delicate flaky fish could also be substituted.
But I went with it because who doesn’t love a double rainbow?
Rainbow trout + rainbow chard = A doubly delicious weeknight meal that is inexpensive, easy to prepare and packed with nutrition.
1 small bunch rainbow chard
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (one for cooking greens and the other for frying trout)
1/4 cup chopped onion (sweet, yellow, leek, shallot or scallion would all work)
Salt and pepper
A shake or two of crushed red pepper, to taste (I love the Asian Red blend from Flatiron Pepper Co.)
1 tsp. finely minced ginger (or a shortcut, like the frozen cubes of ginger)
1 cup coconut milk (the canned culinary variety, preferably “light”)
2 fresh trout fillets
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for dusting the trout fillets)
Cut out stems of the chard and chop into small pieces. Stack the leaves and roll up tightly like a cigar, and then slice into strips.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chard stems and onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about five minutes, until slightly tender. Add chard leaves to the pan, along with red pepper and ginger. Cook a few minutes, until leaves are wilted.
Add coconut milk, reduce heat and cover. Allow chard to braise about 15 minutes while you prepare the trout fillets.
Pat fillets dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle flour onto a plate or paper towel, and add a few more shakes of red pepper flakes if you like spicy flavors. Press the flesh side of the fish down onto the flour to coat, and then shake off excess.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add the remaining oil and twirl the pan to coat. Place trout fillets, flesh side down, into the hot skillet and cook until fish is crispy and golden, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn fillets and cook the skin side for 2 to 3 minutes.
Plate the braised greens and top with trout. Spoon extra coconut milk sauce over the top of fish and serve at once.
What a week! Things have been a bit upside-down at our house, as my husband and I are now in week five of our master bath remodel. It isn’t clear to me how a room half the size of the kitchen can take longer to overhaul, but we are assured that the end of the month will bring light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sure ready to get back to normal, though “normal” itself is different with the change of season. Can I get an “achoo?”
The weather is warming, my car is predictably covered in yellow pollen, all the flowers are blooming and the bees are buzzing (literally). Yesterday, as I chatted with a neighbor in the warmth of the afternoon, we heard a humming sound that became increasingly loud as we talked. It was not the sound of the nearby wet saw grinding away at the large porcelain tiles that will grace the walls of our new, walk-in shower—no, this sound was much closer and sounded like a chaotic symphony of the natural sort. To be honest, it felt and sounded a bit ominous, as if the wind carried a warning. I finally looked up to realize that an enormous swarm of bees was on the move! In all my years, I had never before witnessed such a sight, and it was something to behold. Thankfully, they kept moving!
Easter arrives this weekend, and for the occasion, I’ll be making a couple batches of homemade Moravian Sugar Cake this evening and tomorrow morning. And then, with the Friday evening arrival of Passover, all leavened baked goods will be “off the table” for a week (plus a day). That is a big test of my willpower, and I will probably try to satisfy my cravings virtually by sharing a previously made bread recipe (or two).
In the meantime, here’s a delicious and healthful seafood recipe that fits the bill for the final Friday of Lent or for a simple Passover meal for the coming week. When I made this dish a few months ago, it was a good reminder for me that a meal does not have to be complicated to seem elegant. The creamy Dijon-spiked sauce has a dual role; first, to coat the salmon during baking (which keeps it delightfully moist) and, second, a reserved amount can be dolloped onto the plate for dipping as you enjoy each bite. I like wild or sustainably farm-raised salmon for this recipe, but arctic char or steelhead trout would be equally delicious, and it only takes 30 minutes, start to finish—perfect at the end of a hectic “here comes spring” week!
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 fillets salmon (about 6 oz. each, skin-on is fine)
Creamy Dijon Sauce
1/3 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt, if you prefer)
A small handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
If you will be making this dish for Passover, omit the Dijon, as mustard is not considered kosher for Passover, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish culture. I’m still learning the rules, and though we don’t follow all of them at our house, I would hate to lead someone else astray of acceptable standards. This will be delicious, even without the mustard.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a baking sheet, lined with parchment or silicone liner.
Pat salmon fillets dry with paper towels. Season each with salt and pepper.
Stir together the sour cream, Dijon, shallots, dill and parsley. Squeeze in lemon juice and stir to combine. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Spread the creamy Dijon sauce generously over each fillet, reserving a few tablespoons for serving later. Bake for 25 minutes, or until salmon flakes easily.
I’ve lived in and around Winston-Salem for 35 years, and from the day I arrived as a fresh-faced 20-something, I’ve explored every corner and tried every restaurant and sought out all the specialty shops in a quest to satisfy my food-loving soul.
Or so I thought.
A few years ago, some friends of ours made mention of Sea Products, a hidden gem that has been in business three years longer than I’ve been here, and their recommendation has changed my life. OK, that’s probably a bit overstated, but it has definitely changed my seafood game for the better.
I love stepping into this little shop in the West End of my city. It smells like the ocean in the best possible way and is always amply stocked with fresh seafood—mostly from our own coastline, but sometimes from as far as Canada—and all kinds of accoutrements for whatever preparation you have in mind for your fresh catch. Sea Products throws in a fresh lemon with every seafood purchase, and sells housemade tartar and cocktail sauces, side salads in ready-to-go containers, and fresh breads from a local bakery. They even have a small, curated wine selection, and every bottle pairs with fish. It’s a one-stop shop, and I am a proud supporter of local businesses such as this. The selections are always interesting, to the point that I don’t even bother making a shopping list.
What would it be this day—fresh shrimp, clams or scallops? Pre-made crab or fish cakes? Halibut or grouper? And then something caught my eye from the corner of the case, a fish that I hadn’t seen on previous visits. Black sea bass. The clerk described it as “mild and flaky, similar to snapper but a touch sweeter.”
I am always interested in trying new fish, and thought it made sense to pair the unfamiliar black sea bass with flavors we already knew. OK, I thought, piccata sauce. It’s light enough to let the flavors of the fish shine, and both my husband and I like the balance of brine and tartness, softened by the butter that’s swirled in at the end of cooking. Piccata was the plan, at least, until I opened the fridge. As I shuffled jars to reach the capers, my eyes locked in on a taller jar of pimento-stuffed cocktail olives. Ooh, a martini would be nice right now, I thought.
And then, hmmmm.
I could not help but wonder what would happen if I made the olives an understudy to the usual capers. And because savory olives work so nicely in a martini, what would happen if I substituted gin and vermouth for the white wine in my piccata? Well, this happened!
Technically, the alcohol infusion I’ve used here is what a bartender would call a “reverse martini,” because the ratio of gin to vermouth has been flipped. This seemed the right thing to do, not only because my husband is decidedly not a gin lover, but also for the fact that gin is much higher alcohol by volume than white wine. Dry vermouth, on the other hand, is on par with wine, alcohol-wise, and it would be a better flavor choice to highlight the olives without over-boozing the fish. Finally, my splash of olive juice was far more generous than I’d ever drink in a cocktail (I used a full ounce of it), so a bartender would probably declare the drink infusion to be a “filthy reverse martini.” Filthy indeed.
So, those are the flavors and here comes the technique. If you have ever marveled at the elegance of a butter sauce on fresh seafood, you may find it surprising to know that it is simple to make. The trick is to remove the pan from the heat as soon as the juices are reduced, and to swirl cold-from-the-fridge pats of butter into the sauce, one at a time. This easy technique transforms the otherwise liquid leavings in the pan into a silky, rich sauce.
Come, join me in the kitchen!
2 fillets fresh black sea bass (or other mild, flaky whitefish)
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. canola or other neutral oil
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (a rich, fruity one is great)
1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 reverse filthy martini* (see note below)
1 heaping tsp. pimentos from a jar
3 Tbsp. completely cold butter (for swirling in at the end)
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped (for serving)
Lemon wedge (to squeeze at serving time)
Reverse martini ingredients are 1.5 oz. dry or extra-dry vermouth, .5 oz. gin, 1 oz. olive juice, 3 olives. Do not shake or stir the martini with ice, as you would for drinking. Just combine the ingredients in a glass or measuring cup at room temperature. Chop or slice the olives and set them aside.
If you don’t care for gin, swap it for vodka or omit it altogether.
Friday fish fry. That was the thing in my upstate New York hometown, and it didn’t have to be Lent. There were a few places that everyone flocked to on Friday nights for a heaping plate of beer-battered haddock fillets, deep fried and served up with cole slaw and French fries—or cottage cheese, if it was lunch. You couldn’t order it any other day of the week. Just Friday. The “fish fry” is one of the foods I really do miss from my younger years, and I have never seen it served that way anywhere else. There are plenty of places I could find battered-and-fried cod, but it just isn’t the same.
I need to get better at deep frying before I try to make a Friday fish fry myself. Until then, I’ll satisfy my fish craving with a few other favorites, baked rather than fried, that I’ve developed on my own over the years. During the Lenten season, there’s an uptick in searches for interesting seafood recipes because observant Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays—at least for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Here’s one that is delicious and easy to prepare. I hope you enjoy it, regardless of your religious observance.
My recipe for pecan-crusted trout has evolved over the years, and the flavors and textures are all front and center in this one. The trout fillets are brushed with an easy blend of mayonnaise, Parmesan and Dijon mustard, and then I press them into a mixture of panko crumbs, more grated Parmesan and finely crushed, toasted pecans. 20 minutes later, dinner is served! This is easy enough for even a busy weeknight, and you can prepare your sides while it bakes.
The mayo mixture serves double duty in this recipe. It’s a “glue” to hold the seasoned pecan blend in place, and it also protects the fish from becoming dry during its brief time in the oven. The trout fillets remain soft and moist inside, despite the delicate crunch that meets your taste buds with every bite.
This recipe serves 2; easy to adjust for more servings
2 fresh trout fillets
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup pecan pieces, toasted* (see recipe notes)
1/4 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
A few shakes ground cayenne pepper
To toast the pecan pieces, preheat oven to 350° F. Spread the pecan pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until nuts are fragrant, roasty and slightly shiny. Remove from oven and cool completely. Do this step ahead to save even more time in preparation of the fish.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Stir together the mayonnaise, Parmesan and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle the trout fillets with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, pulse or crush the pecan pieces into fine crumbs. Transfer the pecans to a bowl with the panko crumbs and Parmesan. Season with a shake or two of ground cayenne.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spritz it lightly with cooking oil spray. Arrange the trout fillets on the sheet, skin side-down. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly coat the fleshy side of the trout fillets with the mayo-Parm mixture, then press the pecan crumb mixture onto the fish, generously covering every visible area.
Bake the fish for about 18 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a light twist of a fork. If the crumbs are pale, turn on the broiler for only one minute, to finish the fish with a deep golden color.
Comfort foods come in many shapes and sizes, though I usually think of them as rich, creamy sauces or over-the-top pizzas or decadent ice creams. But this entrée, despite being inherently light and healthful, is also very comforting, thanks to the variety of textures and flavors in the mix.
I designed this pretty plate from memory after a brunch with co-workers during the holiday season. It was the farro salad and roasted root vegetables that caught my eye on the menu that day. I loved the tender chew of the farro and the warmth and earthiness given by the sweet potatoes and parsnips. If you are not familiar with farro, please allow me to introduce you.
What is farro?
Farro is an ancient grain that is native to Italy. It is perhaps better described as a category of grain, given that three distinct varieties—spelt, einkorn and emmer—are frequently described as “farro.” In its most basic state, farro is a hard kernel that can either be cooked whole in water or ground into meal or flour. But it may also be partially or fully pearled, meaning that some or all of the bran has been removed. The pearling process results in altered cooking time, but the grain would still be suitable for the same kinds of dishes.
What does farro taste like?
When cooked as a whole grain, farro has a warm, nutty flavor that is similar to that of brown rice. Unlike most conventional wheat grains, farro has not been greatly hybridized from its ancient state, and some people find it more easily digestible for that reason. But as a botanical relative of wheat, farro does contain gluten and should be avoided by people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
How do you cook farro?
To cook partially pearled farro (the most common form you’ll find in stores), give it a rinse under running water and inspect the grains to weed out any small debris that may have missed screening during packaging. Add the farro to double the amount of water and heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 to 25 minutes for al dente, or longer if you want it more tender. Farro that has not been pearled may take twice as long, and some packaged farro is par-cooked for quicker preparation, so always check the label instructions for recommended cooking time.
What can you use farro for?
Farro is a versatile grain that can be used in pilafs, salads or soups. If ground into flour, it can be used in baking recipes, though the resulting texture would be more dense than baked goods made with typical wheat. If you want to try farro flour in a favorite bread recipe, consider substituting only about one-fourth of the total amount of flour, and increase the amount the next time when you better understand its properties.
The rest of this recipe is straightforward and simple—the sweet potatoes and parsnips are tossed lightly in olive oil and roasted until tender and browned, and the salmon is lightly seared in a skillet with nothing more than salt and pepper. A quick vinaigrette of lemon, garlic and oregano ties the whole dish together with a fat handful of peppery arugula greens.
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced fresh leeks (or chopped sweet onion)
1 cup cooked farro* (see recipe notes)
A fat handful fresh baby arugula leaves, washed
2 fillets fresh salmon, skin removed
1/4 cup crumbled feta (or goat cheese)
As noted above, some farro products have been par-cooked for convenience. Follow the instructions on your package to cook the farro to “al dente” stage, so that it is soft but still has a bit of chew to it.
Vinaigrette is one of the simplest salad dressings to make at home. I usually make it in a glass measuring cup for easy pouring, but if you want to make it even easier, put all the ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake the dickens out of it. My recipe for this vinaigrette is included in the downloadable PDF at the end of this post. You’ll need a light vinegar, Dijon, fresh garlic, oregano and lemon, and extra virgin olive oil.
Follow along as I show you how I made this tasty, healthful comfort food. Scroll to the bottom for a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.
If you were to scroll through your collection of recipes, I wonder which ones are most overlooked, and I wonder why. We all have recipe cards that hang out in the back of the box—either because they no longer suit our taste (which makes them ripe for a makeover), or they are specific to a season or holiday, or the ingredients are too pricy or difficult to find. Sometimes, though, I believe recipes get passed over because they seem complicated or intimidating.
My own “bucket list” of culinary challenges includes items from all those categories, but after recent conversation with various friends and acquaintances, I have noticed one standout category of food that seems to hold an air of mystery to a lot of people: seafood. It seems that most people enjoy seafood, but many are reluctant to make it at home. It’s no wonder seafood restaurant prices are what they are, and that’s a darn shame when some of those dishes are perfectly manageable for a home cook.
Every week or so, I peek at the activity insights offered by WordPress, where Comfort du Jour is hosted, and this helps guide me in deciding what to make next, and what to share with my foodie friends. I can see at-a-glance the number of views and downloads each page has had to date, and overwhelmingly, the recipe with the highest numbers of both is this one:
It surprises me to see that Mahi Hemingway is so interesting to others, because it happens to be one of the simplest recipes to make, both from an ingredient standpoint and one of skill level. I developed my own version of that recipe because I couldn’t make sense of the $30 price tag on a similar dish in a local restaurant, which I expect points to another reason home cooks shy away from making their own seafood. If it’s so expensive in restaurants, it must be expensive and hard to make, right? Wrong! 😉
Most seafood is surprisingly easy to make, and I’m about to prove it again with this easy-and-done recipe that is cooked on the grill. The salmon fillet portions, which are easily found in most larger supermarkets, take an afternoon bath in a simple marinade of real maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard. The marinade infuses flavor into the fish during this phase, and becomes a flavorful glaze later, when the fish is grilled. If you prefer, you can also make this in the oven, and the cedar wrap is entirely optional, but I believe it is worth the extra expense. I found these in the grilling section of the supermarket , but you might also check your hardware store, Walmart or Target. Cedar wraps impart an aromatic smokiness to the fish, without the extra time and fuss of cedar planks. The wraps are also less expensive than planks (only $10 for eight of them), and they don’t take up much storage space.
I have garnished the salmon with chopped soy-wasabi almonds, which is a great complement to the maple and bourbon flavors, and the wasabi echoes the horseradish that spikes the easy buttermilk mashed potatoes underneath, the same potatoes I made at St. Patrick’s Day for the Bangers & Mash.
You can begin prep for this meal a few hours ahead, and cooking time is less than half an hour, including the mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. This meal is beautiful, tasty, quick and easy—collectively giving it a good chance at moving to the front of the recipe box.
Two servings, easy to double.
2 Atlantic salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each* (see notes)
3 Tbsp. real maple syrup, preferably dark*
3 Tbsp. bourbon
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp. Boyajian maple extract*
2 cedar wraps, soaked at least 5 minutes* (optional, see notes)
Small handful of wasabi & soy sauce almonds*
The salmon fillets may be skinless or skin-on; it doesn’t matter because the skin will remain on the cedar wrap after grilling, which makes plating this dish super simple. If your seafood market has steelhead trout or arctic char, they would also be delicious in this recipe, but adjust your grilling time. Both are usually thinner and would cook more quickly.
For the love of good taste, please do not use a fake “maple-ish” syrup from the grocery store. Real maple is the best, and totally worth the expense. There are plenty of resources for good quality maple products; I order mine online from Big Tree Maple in Lakewood, N.Y. Why? Because I grew up under the shade of those lovely trees and they know me.
The maple extract, which is optional, amplifies the flavor of the syrup without adding sweetness. Look for it in gourmet specialty stores, or online at King Arthur Baking Company. Another product I like for this purpose is maple-infused balsamic vinegar, which is easy to find in one of the specialty balsamic shops that have popped up all over the U.S. If you substitute with the balsamic, use about 1/2 teaspoon.
Cedar wood, when soaked and grilled, lends a phenomenal flavor to salmon. If you choose planks, be certain they are designed for culinary use. Cedar grilling planks should be submerged fully underwater for at least an hour, but I like the wraps because they only require soaking a few minutes. You could probably also use soaked cedar chips in a smoker box, alongside the salmon on your grill.
The wasabi & soy sauce almonds are a Blue Diamond product, and you’ll find them in the small cans in the snack aisle of your supermarket, alongside cans of peanuts and mixed nuts. I’m crazy about the horseradish-y flavor, and it is remarkably good against the sweetness of maple and bourbon.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
1 lb. potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)
2 Tbsp. salted butter (extra if you’d like)
1/4 cup thick buttermilk
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
Salt and pepper
1 average bundle fresh asparagus
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon (optional)
You will want to marinate the salmon fillets a couple of hours, so plan this quick prep for mid-afternoon. I’ll run through the easy steps for the salmon here. For visual direction on the buttermilk mashed potatoes, check out my recent post for Bangers & Mash; it is the same recipe, though ingredient amounts are adjusted here for this dish.
Season the salmon fillets with kosher salt and black pepper. Place them, skin side down, in a glass baking dish.
Combine the maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard in a measuring cup with a pour spout, Whisk in olive oil and maple extract (if using). Pour most of the marinade evenly over the salmon fillets, reserving about a tablespoon of it to drizzle over at serving. Turn the fillets over, so that the fleshy side rests in the marinade, and wiggle them around to be sure the marinade coats the exposed sides of the fish. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably about two hours.
Peel and cut up the potatoes. Boil gently until they are easily pierced with a fork, then drain over a colander.
Add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot and stir until butter is melted. Transfer drained potatoes back to the pot and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in horseradish and more butter, if desired. Keep potatoes warm until serving time.
While the potatoes cook, prepare your grill, with temperature at 350° F. Soak cedar wraps and tying twine for at least five minutes.
Remove salmon fillets from marinade. Center them, skin side-down, on the soaked wraps and fold up the sides to enclose them, tying snugly with twine.
Place the cedar-wrapped salmon onto a grilling rack, and cook over direct heat for about 12 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with the twist of a fork. You may need to peel back a piece of the cedar wrap to test the flakiness.
Cut the twine to unwrap the cedar and serve the fish atop a mound of the buttermilk-horseradish potatoes alongside your favorite vegetable. Chop the soy-wasabi almonds into crumb-sized pieces. Drizzle salmon with reserved marinade and sprinkle with almonds.
Make the asparagus concurrently with the potatoes and salmon
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prep the asparagus by snapping off the trimmed ends. Rinse under running water and roll them around on a paper towel to dry them.
Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roll them to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon zest. If you slide the asparagus into the oven just before the salmon goes on the grill, it will be done right on time!
You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀
Most every night for the past few months, I have awakened around 3 a.m., for no apparent reason. My insomnia usually lasts at least an hour and a half, during which time I ponder all of the good and evil in the world, or play mindless word games on my smartphone, or venture into the dark corners of our house to find and snuggle our sleeping pets. I’d like to make one suggestion for others who have experienced this phenomenon of waking at 3 a.m.—do not pick up your phone and begin Googling possible causes for said awakenings. The search results are grim, and in a matter of moments, you will begin to question everything from your diet (am I eating sugar too close to bedtime?) to your spiritual condition (what do you mean, exactly, by ‘witching hour?’). My therapist believes I am probably flummoxed over a combination of things, related mostly to work-from-home stress and general pandemic fatigue. Whatever the case, I’m exhausted. Every once in a while though, these sleep interruptions result in something good, and this recipe is a fine example of that.
Out of the blue two weeks ago, I awakened with a start and asked myself why I had never made fish cakes with sriracha and scallions. You might be thinking this is a bizarre question to ask oneself so urgently at 3 in the freakin’ morning, and you’d be correct, but this is my life now. Once I go down that rabbit hole, it isn’t long before I begin dreaming up ideas of just how such a dream dish should be completed, right down to the garnish. Sometimes I pick up my phone and make record of my ideas—and that’s a smart thing, because if I don’t jot it down, my next successful 40 winks may wipe it clean out of my brain. From this particular wide-awake culinary epiphany, I made these exact notes, because I didn’t want to forget what sounded like a great recipe.
It took me a few days to round up my ingredients, and when I got down to it last week, with a few tweaks to my original plan, the result was delicious! These scallion-sriracha salmon cakes were light and fresh, low calorie and easy as could be to make, with just enough heat to make your tongue tingle. I modeled the ratio of ingredients after my favorite crab cake recipe, using only enough mayonnaise and panko crumbs to hold the flaky salmon together with the finely minced garlic and red bell pepper. A little extra panko on the outside before pan frying gave the cakes a terrific crispiness to offset the moist and tender interior.
1/4 cup panko crumbs, plus extra for shaping cakes
2 Tbsp. peanut oil
Fish sauce is a pungent, fermented condiment found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. If you cannot find it, substitute with soy sauce.
The Asian Reds hot pepper flakes are a specialty item that popped up a while back in my hubby’s Facebook feed, and we could not resist ordering a variety of products from this company, though we have no financial incentive from doing so. I like this pepper seasoning because it includes the hard-to-find varieties of pepper that play so well with other Asian flavors, including the sriracha in this recipe. If you don’t want to spring for them, substitute any crushed red pepper flakes, or omit them for less heat.
Here we go with pictures, and keep scrolling for written steps and a downloadable copy for your recipe files!
Heat a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pan steam or lightly sauté salmon fillet until just flaky (better slightly underdone than overdone). Cool then refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Combine mayo with sriracha and fish sauce; measure out about 3 Tbsp. for finishing the cakes at serving. I put the reserved portion into a zip-top snack bag (sort of a makeshift piping bag).
Add half of the chopped scallions, red pepper, garlic and spicy Asian Reds seasoning to remaining mayo mixture. Fold in beaten egg and panko crumbs.
Flake fish into large-ish pieces and gently fold into mayo mixture, taking care not to break up the fish pieces too much. Sprinkle additional panko crumbs into your hand and shape mixture into four patties, about the size of hockey pucks, with a light coating of panko on both sides. Place each fish cake onto a parchment lined plate or small baking sheet.
Cover the fish cakes with plastic wrap and chill at least two hours. This gives the mixture time to firm up, and the panko will absorb some of the moisture to better bind the cakes.
Heat peanut oil in a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook salmon cakes 3 or 4 minutes per side, until browned and crisp. Serve over rice with your favorite vegetables, top salmon cakes with reserved sriracha mayo drizzle and reserved scallion slices.
There has been a fresh and flavorful shift in our kitchen over the past couple of weeks, and it feels so right! My husband, Les, and I have been eating healthier after the holidays, not for keeping resolutions (we don’t bother with those), but out of simple desire to care for our bodies better after a season of splurging. Seafood has been the star of this menu reboot, and I’ve brought back into rotation one of my favorite all-time recipes, a seared fillet of fish rested on a mélange of tender sautéed fennel with creamy cannellini beans and sweet tomatoes.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess right here that I actually did not use salmon this time, but steelhead trout. This is a sweet and creamy fish, similar in texture (and appearance) to a farm-raised salmon, and when I can get my hands on steelhead trout, I love to swap it into favorite salmon recipes, including the salmon in phyllo dish that I shared in December. But steelhead trout isn’t always easy to find, especially while adhering to the best practice standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (sustainability means a lot to me). The dish is every bit as delicious when made with your favorite salmon, which is usually much easier to find.
It looks and tastes more extravagant than it is, and although I’ve named it “fish with fennel,” it would be better described as fennel with fish, given that the fennel shows up in three different forms—the seeds are ground to a powder for crusting on the fillets, the vegetable is caramelized in the mélange beneath the fish, and the fronds are chopped and sprinkled on top.
Would it surprise you to know that you can have this meal on the table in about 35 minutes, start to finish? It’s true. And Les, who is practically a living nutritional calculator, announced after cleaning his plate that our meal probably checked in at fewer than 400 calories per serving, which is not too shabby for such a flavorful, satisfying meal.
2 portions salmon*, skin removed (see notes)
1 tsp. fennel seed, ground to a rough powder
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced* (should measure about 1 cup)
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, drained well)
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine* (or all vegetable broth)
15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped or minced
Any type of salmon (wild sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works well in this recipe, but you might also consider swapping in another fish, such as arctic char or steelhead trout, which I used. If you are not comfortable removing the skin yourself, ask the seafood clerk to do it for you. Learn this task, and you’ll be unstoppable!
Fennel is a less common vegetable, one that you may have passed over in the supermarket for something more recognizable. It resembles something between celery and bok choy, but tastes nothing like either. It is crunchy with a slightly licorice flavor, and it pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish, especially when sautéed or stewed. The seed part of fennel might be more familiar to you. It’s the flavor that makes Italian sausage taste Italian.
If you use wine to deglaze the skillet, make it a dry one, such as pinot grigio. Alternatively, I frequently reach for dry vermouth, given that I always have a bottle open in the fridge. If you prefer to not use wine, just add another splash of vegetable broth, no problem.
Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the fennel seeds to a rough powder. Don’t have either? Try putting the seeds into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Season the fish fillets with kosher salt and pepper, then sprinkle the fennel powder onto both sides of the fillets and press to fully adhere it.
Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmery (but not smoking), lay fish fillets into pan. Cook about two minutes, then carefully turn fillets to cook the other side another two minutes. Transfer fish to a small plate and keep warm. I usually slip it into the microwave while I make the mélange.
Add fennel pieces to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing occasionally, until fennel is caramelized and tender, about five minutes.
Add tomatoes, then broth, plus wine. Stir until combined and liquid is simmering.
Add beans and mustard. Toss to combine, reduce heat to low.
Return fish to the pan, resting the fillets on top of the mixture. Cover and simmer on low for about 8 minutes, which is just about enough time to set the table and chop the fennel fronds.
Plate the meal, with fish fillet resting on top of the fennel-bean mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top and serve.