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roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon


As we accelerate towards the vernal equinox (can’t believe I just typed that), the situation at the farmers’ market becomes more extreme. We can still find winter squash, which have been stored for a while and are still tasty, and sweet potatoes, which are even sweeter now than they were at Thanksgiving. Beyond this, it’s slim pickins. This past Saturday, though, I witnessed what I consider to be the very earliest sign of spring at the market: eggs. We are entering what some farmers and folklorists call the “egg moon,” the moon cycle before Easter when the hens start to lay again in earnest. There is more sunlight each day, and while we silly humans continue to bask in misery when we see the dirty snow on the ground, grimacing at our friends’ Facebook postings from tropical locations (enough, already!), the hens are keeping their beady little eyes on the ball. The ball, that is, that hangs in the sky during the days, the days that are inching longer, and longer still. There are worlds of wisdom in our feathery friends.


Take heart, gentle reader! We have only a few weeks to go before little greens and pussy willows make their way to the market. Meanwhile, grab yourself some sweet potatoes—or winter squash—and roast them up. Soon enough you’ll be waxing sentimental about the root vegetables of winter, and how you miss them at times in the glorious summer. Sweet potatoes are not the favorite vegetable of my beloved, but my roots include a tribe of sweet potato-growing farmers in southern Maryland. And I love sweet potatoes. Brilliantly, you can cut them into small fry-shaped batons, and toss them in smoked paprika, salt, and olive oil for a delicious treat. You can do the same with little, teeny Brussels sprouts. You can roast these and then at the end add a nice piece of salmon and have yourself a decent meal.

You can scale this recipe up for a family-sized meal that’s fast to throw together and tasty, too. And use the time you saved to dream of what you can make next week with eggs, and soon, with garlic scapes, and spinach, and a handful of tender and early herbs.


Roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

Recipe below will feed 2 people; double or triple it to feed more, and use multiple baking sheets

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4″ x 1/4″ fries the length of the potato
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus a little extra for the fish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 salmon filets, 4 ounces each
  • lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato fries and half of the onion slices with half the olive oil, half the paprika, and half the salt. Spread evenly on baking sheet, making sure fries aren’t touching each other. Then, in the same bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with half of the onion slices and the rest of the olive oil, paprika, and salt. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.

2. Place baking sheet in hot oven and bake for 20 minutes, removing once to turn fries and toss sprouts. Remove from oven and make sure that sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are mostly cooked. Make space in the middle of the baking sheet and add the fillets, skin side down. Sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top of fish. Return to oven for 10-15 minutes, until fish is cooked. Remove from oven and serve promptly, spritzing with lemon juice if desired.

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spicy cornmeal-crusted pan-fried catfish

It is easy to forget what a quick and simple weeknight meal pan-fried fish makes.  The trick with great fish is that, at least for us, it’s more about the logistics of shopping than it is about the complexity of cooking. Our local fish shop closes at 6 o’clock in the evening, and rarely am I through with work by that hour. The evening I can escape in time to get to the fish shop before it closes is rare indeed. When I think the timing might work out, I will do backflips to get there. We never regret having raced out to the shop, where the cases are lined with fillets, glistening whole fish, and a gorgeous selection of shellfish.

The last trip out, the catfish fillets seemed appealing. This was not least because somehow in our fortnightly grocery shopping trip—to get staples, such as rice, grains, pasta, and baking materiel—I somehow forgot to get a bag of all-purpose flour. So while the sole and the trout looked appealing, I would typically dredge those in flour (à la meunière), which is not so possible when you haven’t got a tablespoon of flour in the house. So I went for the catfish, knowing how wonderful it is pan-fried with crunchy cornmeal coating. Sriracha in the egg occurred to me on the way home; it’s a great shortcut when you want to introduce a spicy yet complex flavor to a dish very quickly.

If you’re wondering what are the dark bits stuck to the fish in my picture, they are kale. I had blanched several bunches of lacinato kale from the farmers’ market as soon as I brought it home. I wrung it out and sauteed it with bacon and garlic and then set it aside covered in foil while the fish quickly fried right in the same pan. The whole meal was on the table in about 20 minutes. (For those of you playing at home: that’s long enough for the cook to enjoy a Negroni as long as someone else makes it for her.) It’s a beautiful thing when it takes a bit longer to commute to the fish shop than it does to cook the fish and accompaniments once your reach home. All in all, I’d say it’s the ultimate in weeknight efficiency.

Spicy cornmeal-crusted pan-fried catfish

  • 1 lb. catfish fillets
  • 1 egg
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sriracha, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal or polenta
  • canola, grapeseed, or olive oil for frying
  • 1 lemon, halved for squeezing

1. Line with paper towels a plate or platter large enough to hold all the fillets in a single layer. Set it aside. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a large nonstick skillet. This will be less than one-quarter inch deep. Heat over medium to medium-high heat until extremely hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, combine egg and sriracha in a pie plate and beat with a fork to combine. In another pie plate or dish, combine cornmeal or polenta and salt. Mix well.

2. Pat each fillet dry, then dredge both sides in the egg mixture followed by the cornmeal mixture, coating very well at each step. Fish should be completely coated, with no bare spots. As soon as it is coated, carefully place each fillet into the hot oil in turn. Nudge the fillet a bit in the pan after the first 30 seconds of cooking to ensure that it does not stick. When the cornmeal on the first side is a dark golden brown, after about 3 to 4 minutes, flip the fillets carefully with a large spatula, each in its turn. Fry on the second side for 3 to 4 more minutes, until coating is a dark golden brown.

3. When each fillet is finished cooking, remove it to the paper-towel lined plate. Squeeze lemon juice over each fillet. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

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smoked trout + asparagus salad

After we feasted on this salad the other night, I got the third degree from Ty: where did the recipe come from? I’m not quite sure really. I kind of applied the transitive property to a couple of things in the refrigerator, and landed on this particular combination. So much of cooking is this way for home cooks, I think. We know that A traditionally goes well with B, and that C traditionally goes well with B, and therefore A and C also make a great pairing. Sometimes you get several degrees away in these relationships and still end up with something stunning. So with this salad.

I think the original inspiration here is our annual trip to the Adirondacks, where we stay in Keene, N.Y., at the delightful Dartbrook Lodge. (Note to self: plan this year’s trip.) While there, one of the delights of local cuisine that we enjoy is smoked trout. It is served there on Club crackers (why are they so good?) and on spinach salad, and with eggs, and in all cases with some combination of horseradish cream, capers, or red onions. Every restaurant in the area seems to feature smoked trout in one dish or another, and like many foods that we associate with a particular place, we love the food more because of the location where we’ve enjoyed it. And vice versa.

Asparagus pairs as naturally with eggs as does smoked trout, which you frequently find with scrambled eggs at breakfast. Potatoes are a lovely companion to asparagus, and also eggs. Red onions and capers are both the frequent companions to these items. And asparagus, smoked trout, eggs, and potatoes all love horseradish. I should pause here to say that my lovely colleague Lani, who makes her own horseradish each year with her husband, gave me a jar of the potent stuff. Without it, this dish would not have been possible! I know the pain and suffering involved with grinding one’s own horseradish, and I therefore treasure it all the more.

Each component of this salad is blanched or browned separately to prepare the final dish: bacon crisped, eggs hard-boiled,  asparagus blanched,  potatoes boiled. All of these things can be done in advance—a few days in advance, even. (Except the asparagus, which is always more crisp-tender if blanched and iced just before eating.) The dressing, a simple mixture of Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice, can also be prepared the day before. Or, you can do as I did, and come home from work and set a pot of water to boil and fry your bacon. (Truthfully I should also note that the bacon is absolutely unnecessary to the success of this dish. It is marvelous without it.) Everything gets cooled with chilled water before composing the salad (now is when you can fry up your croutons) and you are ready to eat.

While putting this together has its logistical challenges, none of its components are difficult, and all in all it is a route to an easy weeknight supper. Happy spring!

Smoked trout + asparagus salad

Serves 4

  • 4 eggs, hard boiled
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 medium waxy potatoes, such as red bliss or Yukon gold, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 20 spears), washed and trimmed of tough stems
  • 3 slices bacon (optional)
  • 8 ounces of smoked trout, skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 8 slices of ciabatta or baguette
  • olive oil for frying ciabatta or baguette

1. If you do not have hard-boiled eggs on hand, make them first. Place 4 eggs in a pan, just covered with water. Put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit, without disturbing the lid, for 10 minutes. Remove eggs from pan and plunge carefully into very icy water until you are ready to prepare the salad.

2. Make dressing: combine yogurt, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup or small pitcher. Set aside.

3. Place potato chunks in a pot with a lid and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and leave at a simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Test a large potato chunk to be sure they are cooked. Drain in a colander in the sink and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Set aside.

4. Refill potato pot with fresh water. Salt lightly and bring to a rolling boil. When it boils add asparagus and blanch until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove asparagus from pan into another pan filled with very icy water.

5. Meanwhile, if using, in a skillet over medium heat, brown the bacon until it is very dark and crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Wipe out skillet and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Heat over medium-high until shimmering. Add ciabatta or baguette slices and fry until deep brown on the first side. Quickly and carefully flip the slices and brown on the second side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.

6. Assemble the salad: Remove eggs from ice water (or refrigerator if already cooked) and peel them and cut them in half lengthwise. Arrange asparagus, tips pointing to rim of platter. Heap potatoes in the center of the plate (on top of asparagus stems). Drizzle some of the dressing over potatoes and asparagus stems. Arrange halves of eggs around potatoes among asparagus spears. Break up smoked trout and distribute over potatoes, asparagus and eggs. Do the same with bacon, if using. Distribute chopped onion and capers over entire platter. Drizzle everything with more dressing. Serve with croutons on the side.

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deconstructed fish tacos

Sometimes I look around the kitchen and have Iron Chef moments. They do not always come at opportune times and often result in nightmarish weeknight meals. Luckily when I looked around my kitchen the other evening and connected the dots between ingredients to come to the conclusion that I should make deconstructed Baja-style fish tacos, it happened on a weekend. I could see the connection between all the vegetables I had—cabbage, avocado, tomato, squash—was a deconstructed taco dish. Why deconstructed? Because there were no tortillas in the house, and I did not feel like going out to get them. (Sorry.)

Let me emphasize that nothing in this meal is difficult to make. Far from it! But what with all the chopping and mincing, and slicing, and deep-frying, I think it’s probably best tackled on an evening where you have some breathing room. But it will be worth it! This dish was delicious. The yellow squashes I had on hand were the perfect complement to the rest of the components, and it was nice to have the contrast between all the cold vegetable “salad” components—pico de gallo, avocados with lime, slaw—and the hot and spicy squash dish.

You could also make any part of this meal on its own. The squash is prepared the way I most often ate squash growing up (sauteed with some aromatic, whether it was onion or garlic or scallion), but with hot sauce tossed in at the end. If you use several tomatoes in the pico de gallo, it is a great salad side dish on its own—we often have it as a serious side dish with a weeknight dinner. And the slaw is delicious—it would work with barbecue or anything else for that matter.

But together somehow the whole of these dishes is greater than the sum of their parts. So sometime when you have an extra 45 minutes to make dinner, try the combination. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t miss the tortillas!

Deconstructed fish tacos

The recipes below make two servings and can be increased proportionally for more diners.

Overall method:

1. Make slaw and pico de gallo as below.

2. Cook squash as below and keep warm.

3. Fry fish as below.

4. On each plate, place a helping of squash, pico de gallo and slaw. Snuggle in a half of an avocado. Place servings of fried fish on top of hot squash. Sprinkle cilantro over all and serve with lime wedges.

For baja slaw:

  • 3 cups finely shredded cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1. In a bowl twice as large as the volume of cabbage, combine the last four ingredients with a whisk. Add cabbage, stir well, and let sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Stir at least once again before serving.

For the pico de gallo:

  • 1 large fresh tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • juice of 1 lime

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. Stir before serving.

For garnishes:

  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • fresh lime juice
  • more fresh cilantro

For the squash:

  • 2 small yellow squash, in 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced and cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or fleur de sel
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)

1. In a large skillet combine the olive oil, leek and salt. Saute over medium-high heat until leek is softened. Add squash, saute until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Scrape into a serving dish and toss with hot sauce. Keep warm until serving time.

For the fish:

  • 12 oz or so of white fish, such as cod
  • 1/2 cup lager beer
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt or fleur de sel
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (or less to your taste)
  • neutral oil for frying, such as canola or peanut

1. Cut fish into 1-inch wide strips about 2 – 3 inches long.

2. Combine next five ingredients in a bowl for battering the fish.

3. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a Dutch oven until 350 F. To drain the fish after cooking, place a cooling rack over a baking sheet next to the stove. Working in batches and using tongs or a fork, dip fish pieces into batter until fully coated, and carefully place in hot oil. Cook until very brown and crisp, about 3 minutes on first side, then turn them over and cook about 2 minutes on second side.

4. Assemble the meal as above.

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