Weeknight Wondermeal: Simple Baked Salmon with Spuds and Spinach

2014-02-16 18.51.03Many of my Harvard kids (I teach and work at the University) complain that they don’t know how to cook.  I mean, why should they?  Their parents have taken care of them up to the point that they arrived here, and once here the dining halls take care of the rest.  But even though we educate their minds, we don’t do such a great job teaching them about the practical logistics of life after graduation.  Since most of them know about my gastronomic pursuits, they always ask me to teach them how to cook; this blog is one avenue for those lessons.  So, kiddos: here’s a SUPER easy one for ya.  It’s got 3 basic ingredients, a few items from the pantry, and requires only a cookie sheet, a pyrex baking dish, and a big ol’ bowl – but it’s delicious, healthy, and pretty enough to serve up to company, like when your parents come to visit you during that gap year to see where all the money they’re sending you goes…

I forgot to take a set-up shot, but here’s what you’ll need:

Simple Baked Salmon with Spuds and Spinach (for 2)

1 lb fresh salmon fillet
12 oz baby spinach
1 lb baby red potatoes
1 lemon
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), white vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper, dried oregano

2014-02-16 18.09.55Start by washing your spuds, cutting them in half, and then tossing them with about 3 tablespoons of EVOO and your spices.

2014-02-16 18.11.42Lay those bad boys out, cut side down, on a foil-wrapped cookie sheet, douse with another glug of EVOO for good measure, and throw in the oven on 350 for 30 minutes.

2014-02-16 18.23.42Meanwhile, place your fillet of salmon into a baking dish large enough to hold it (this is an 8″x8″ pyrex).  Cut your lemon in half; squeeze one half of it over the fish, and slice the other half into thin rounds.  Pour a glug of EVOO over the fish, too, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then layer the sliced lemon over the top.  Throw this in the same oven as the potatoes and bake for 20-25 minutes.

2014-02-16 18.26.07Using the same bowl in which you tossed the potatoes (which you needn’t have cleaned out), add your spinach, some salt and pepper.

2014-02-16 18.44.07The potatoes are done when they can be a) easily pierced with a fork, b) their outer skins have gotten all wrinkly, and c) the cut sides are crispy and brown.

2014-02-16 18.45.54Spill these into the bowl over the spinach with all the hot oil which has accumulated on the pan, add a glug of vinegar (about a teaspoon or so), and toss this very well. The heat from the spuds and fat will wilt the spinach.

2014-02-16 18.48.22The salmon is done when it is completely opaque.  The oil and lemon juice will help keep the fish nice and moist; just use a spatula to divide the fillet in half and to slide the fish onto your waiting plates.

2014-02-16 18.51.37And there you have it: succulent, juicy, flavorful, healthy salmon served with creamy-interior, crunchy-exterior roasted potatoes and gently wilted spiced greens.  Serve with or without some crusty French bread, and call it a day.  You will be impressed with yourself, and your guests will think you’re the tops!  All this only takes 30 minutes of cook time, and a mere handful of ingredients.  If you can’t make this, my dear Harvard children, then you should have spent less time planning to change the world and more time tending to your diet.  Lucky for you, I’m here to help you through. You can thank me later, when you win those Nobel prizes and become CEOs of your own Fortune 500 companies.  Don’t worry – I can wait.

Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

DSCN5358Wow.  It’s been a month since I last posted a recipe.  It’s not that I’ve become a slackass or anything – quite the contrary, actually.  I started running this summer, so have shaved some width off my volumps, plus I’ve seen a marvelous uptick in my evening social life – all of which are delightful developments I never expected to see in my 40’s.  I mean, I have been cooking; in fact, I’ve got several recipes in the queue, so to speak, that I still need to write up.  But I’m skipping those and going for the meal that I’m still licking off my lips.  It was a crispy baked and breaded thick cut pork chop sitting atop smooth spiced beer-braised beans and melted spinach which filled my belly with just what I needed after a lunch-free day, a couple bike rides, and a quick run around the block.  Oh, and Clayton’s out of town, so I needed comfort food because: lonely. And considering the near-freezing temperature already descending upon Boston, the warmth steaming off the plate was pretty damn welcome for more reasons than one.

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Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

1 center cut, 1″ thick, bone-in pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
8 oz fresh spinach leaves
6-8 cloves garlic
1 medium white onion
1 tbs butter
3-4 tbs EVOO
10 oz beer
1 egg
4 tbs flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, parsley flakes, crushed red pepper, Chinese 5-spice
freshly grated parmesan cheese

DSCN5343I start by crushing and peeling my garlic cloves, then dicing my onion.  This I set aside for a few minutes.

DSCN5345I then salt and pepper my chop, then first dipping it in flour…

DSCN5346… then coating it with beaten egg…

DSCN5347… and finally pressing breadcrumbs into the meat, coating it thoroughly.

DSCN5348I heat up an oven-safe skillet and melt my butter and EVOO into it until it foams.

DSCN5349Then I sear my chop on every meat-surface I can.  This means front, back, and the exposed fat “seam” along the narrow edge by holding the chop up by the bone (which I frenched, BTW, to make it a better handle) and sear/rolling it in fat until it crisps to a golden brown.  Then I throw the pan into the oven, which is preheated to 325°, for 15 minutes, flipping once to evenly cook through.

DSCN5350Meanwhile, I’ve sauteed my onions and garlic briefly in another glug of EVOO before dumping the can of beans into the pan.

DSCN5351I had intended to use chicken stock, but alas!  I was out.  So I grabbed one of Clayton’s crappy beers, just to add some depth of flavor.

DSCN5352I add a little more than half the can.  It’s foamy.  I let this simmer on high while the pork chop roasts in the oven, and while I clean and trim my spinach.

DSCN5353Oh, right — and I add spices!  Paprika and parsley and lots of black pepper and a few shakes of crushed red pepper and a dash of sea salt and a smattering of 5-spice.  This all thickens up nicely while the beer boils off.

DSCN5354When I have about 3 minutes left, I press and mix all my spinach leaves into the beanpot.  It overflows at first, but…

DSCN5355… they melt beautifully.

DSCN5359At the last moment, I decide to grate some lovely parmesan cheese off a block onto the whole plate.  My beans and greens are the gravy, and my crispy, crunchy, tender, moist, flavorful, and hearty pork chop is the main course.  I tucked into this plate with complete abandon, savoring every unctuous bite. Frankly, I couldn’t eat it all – but I sure as hell tried.

Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

DSCN4347Those of you wonderful people who follow my blog know I have a weakness for anything cooked in a cast-iron skillet.  There is something so old-timey about cast iron, and I love how they serve today as both cooking equipment and serving platter – as they do in my house.  Maybe it’s the weight of them; maybe it’s just the tradition of them — I don’t know, but everything seems to taste better in cast iron.  No wonder, then, that tonight’s offering is a one-pan meal: a mixed grill of seared scallops, shrimp, and cod filet, served with piping hot cheese grits and some quick wilted spinach.  Light, healthy, and warming — just the thing for a chilly winter’s night.

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Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

6 large shrimp, peeled
2-4 large scallops (8oz total), adductor muscles removed
1/2 lb cod filet
6 oz spinach
1 cup grits
4 tbs butter, melted and divided, plus 1 tbs butter, cold
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lemon

This meal was inspired largely by the super-huge scallops on display at Whole Foods.  They were simply enormous, and my soul ached for them at first glance, but my pocketbook was unprepared for the hefty price-tag which came along with them.  So instead of doing without entirely, I purchased the two fattest bivalves I could find (they came to almost 1/2 lb on their own!), and augmented them with some more reasonably priced seafare — some large tiger shrimp and a nice codfish loin.  The shrimp I peeled while raw, and the fish I cut into bite sized pieces.

DSCN4333This is actually a *very* quick meal, and super-easy — it’s just  the expense that sort of knocks it out of the Weeknight Wondermeal category.  I started by melting my butter, which rather cooled back to room temperature before I started cooking in earnest, while I assembled everything else.  I wash and spin dry my spinach, grate my cheese, and get my grits all measured out.

DSCN4339I divide my melted butter roughly into 6ths, placing 1 dollop into each skillet, which I then position over hot burners.  As soon as the butter has begun to brown, I layer in my seafood, starting with the scallops and fish, which I let sear on one side for about 4 minutes, before flipping each piece carefully.

DSCN4340I then add the shrimp, with a dollop more butter on top to melt over them, which I cook for 2 minutes on each side, making a total of 4 minutes for the fish and scallops.  Y’see, the shrimp doesn’t take as long as the other stuff …

DSCN4341I remove the protiens briefly to a warm plate, which I cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes.

DSCN4338The skillets remain on the heat with their butter still bubbling hot.

DSCN4342In goes my spinach, which I sort of roll around in the butter and let wilt over the heat.

DSCN4343Meanwhile, I’ve made my grits according to the package directions (1 part grits to 3 parts water is the magic ratio), and have added my cold tablespoon of butter and most of my grated cheese, reserving a bit for garnish.

DSCN4344After only a few moments, my spinach is almost completely wilted, with some bits browning and crisping nicely on the pan’s surface.  I push all this to one side, and divide my grits between the two skillets, pouring them next to the spinach.

DSCN4345The fish, scallops, and shrimp get placed back into the skillets, with my last dollops of butter placed on top, before I throw both in a very hot oven for about 8 minutes to heat completely through.

DSCN4346A dash of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, a cross-hatching of shredded cheese, and a wedge of lemon are all the compliments needed for this rich, warm, satisfying seafood dinner.  Each protein brings something different to the plate: the cod is flaky and tender, the shrimp is fresh and firm, and the scallop is sweet and seared to a crisp.  Along with the stick-to-your ribs corn grits and helping of verdant greenery, this is a complete dinner in virtually no time at all.  Dig in and enjoy, my friends.  I sure did.