Good for the soul food

by Lisa

Let’s just say there was a storm. It might have been a terrible rain storm, with high winds, and dark skies, and cold slashing rain that I watched, miserably, through the kitchen’s glass wall.  It might have been a squall between the kids, a tornadic escalation of he said/she said spinning destruction through the house. It might have been a tempest between me and my son, or me and my daughter over what’s (not) for dinner, or homework, or cleaning a room, or doing a chore, or feeding the cat.  It was all of that, or some of that, and more. It was a soul-killing storm.

I struggled to bale myself out of the misery and cook dinner. Inspired by Joan, Pietro’s wife, and the chicken Milanese we love, I dredged fresh fish in flour, then beaten egg, then fresh bread crumbs. I fried it in a pool of limpid oil.  It turned golden brown, exactly, miraculously, as it was supposed to.  The skies hadn’t cleared, but dinner was done.

And then, we entered the eye of the storm.  Hungry and exhausted the kids came to the counter. We ate. It was delicious: fragrant, moist, crackling pieces of fish. Sweet cornbread. Tender, lemony greens. More fresh, hot fish.

And then, too soon, we were spun out of that silent, still place, back into the terrible squall.

Dinner did not save us. But it gave me a pale ray of hope. Which is, I suppose, the thing our soul most needs. That, and sometimes, a good new recipe.

Fresh Fried Red Snapper

  • 1 lb fresh Red Snapper filet (not previously frozen)
  • 2-3 eggs, beaten
  • flour for dredging
  • 2-3 slices whole wheat bread, processed into fine crumbs
  • pinch salt
  • canola oil for frying
  1. Carefully check the fish filets for bones, and with a pair of tweezers, remove each bone completely.
  2. Cut the fish into nugget-sized pieces. Where possible, cut along the natural lines of the filet.
  3. Set out 3 bowls, large enough to accommodate the fish. Fill one with flour, one with the beaten eggs, and one with fresh bread crumbs.
  4. Add up to a teaspoon of salt to the flour.
  5. Pour the oil about 3/4 inch deep in a frying pan and turn on heat to medium high.
  6. When the oil is hot, dredge each piece of fish in flour, then coat completely in egg, then cover in bread crumbs.
  7. Fry the fish until one side is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Then turn and fry on second side.  Be careful not to crowd the pan.
  8. Drain briefly on a paper towel covered plate.
  9. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges, aioli, sauteed greens, cornbread.

Ella’s Grilled Salmon Back Sandwich

By Lisa

Salmon Backs are a seasonal favorite around here. If salmon is in season, we’re sure to eat this cut of the fish nearly once a week. It’s fast, flavorful, and really economical.  I can’t afford to keep my family in salmon filets or steaks, but I can afford to feed them piles of salmon backs: in tacos, “ceviche” flavored, lox style, etc.

Earlier this week I made some on the grill and we ate it in soft Middle Eastern flatbread with cream sauce, cabbage, and lime.  As usual, it was delicious. I had to stop myself at two, and Finn at a pile with his spoon. But we still had some leftover, which Ella called dibs on, but then I had not a tortilla in the house.  I offered her crackers, a range of breads, fresh sesame rolls. She chose the rolls and made this sandwich, which is basically taco fillings on a bun. Of course  you can use another cut of fish, but it wouldn’t be the same, because this is basically the fish equivalent of a sloppy joe:  piles of light, loose grilled fish, a creamy sauce, a squeeze of lime for flavor, a bit of cabbage for crunch.

I was happy to let Ella take control of her meal, and even happier that she gave the family another way to keep seasonal eating fresh.

Grilled Salmon Back Sandwich

  • 1-1 1/2 lbs Salmon backs
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • two handfuls of cilantro, leaves and stems + chopped cilantro for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • Cream sauce:  equal parts mayonnaise, sour cream or plain greek yogurt, and cumin to taste
  • shredded cabbage
  • lime wedges
  • Sesame Buns
  1. Marinate salmon for a few hours in white wine, Meyer lemon juice, salt, a few handfuls of cilantro,  garlic
  2. Grill salmon on high heat for five minutes, until just cooked through.
  3. Let salmon cool, then flake meat off the bone
  4. Pile fish on fresh sesame buns and garnish with cream sauce, cabbage, and extra cilantro and lime  as desired

Tahoe Salmon Tacos

by Lisa

My contribution to dinner in the mountains was a twist on one of our family favorites: grilled salmon tacos. It was inspired by bags of fresh chips and fresh corn tortillas that were in the cabin, a pile of limes, and a bag of shredded cabbage. We had sour cream, and plenty of mayonnaise and cumin for the baja sauce.

We never use salmon for tacos, but I made the drive to Overland Meat Company and bought the fish most recently brought in, which that day proved to be some beautiful looking salmon tail. If you’re ever on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, this is the place to go for beautiful, freshly butchered meant and impeccable fish. Normally I would have balked at using it in tacos, but I had eaten some recently that were surprisingly good. I bought 2 lbs, and we had a simple, delicious dinner. They were, in fact, some of the best fish tacos I’ve made, but I attribute that to the quality of the wild salmon and not so much anything fancy I did with it. Here is the recipe that served 5 adults and 4 children, with no leftovers:

Grilled Salmon Tacos

serves 7-8 adults or 5 adults + children

  • 2 lbs wild salmon filets
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 limes
  • white wine
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • cumin
  1. Marinate the salmon in a ziplock bag with the juice of 1 1/2-2 lemons, 2 limes, a splash (about 1/4 cup) wine, a good sprinkling of salt, about 2 T cumin, and olive oil to cover the fish.  30 minutes will do, but you can leave it longer for more flavor. I generally marinate from after lunch to dinner.
  2. Grill salmon, skin side down, over medium high heat until cooked through.
  3. Let cook slightly, peel strips of salmon off the skin, cut into chunks if you prefer, and serve with:
  • warm corn or flour tortillas (your preference)
  • shredded green cabbage
  • red salsa
  • cream sauce (equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream, lime and cumin to taste)
  • refried black beans
  • shredded cheese
  • cherry tomato salad dressed with salt, olive oil & lime

Pickled Shrimp

By Lisa

It’s no secret to readers here that I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump.  But as the weather changes, and my event schedule slows down a little, and the end of the school year approaching, things are getting a little jolt of renewed energy. I am still not over the loss of Gourmet, but I read the recent issue of Food and Wine with interest for the first time in months and months. And in it, I found this recipe for pickled shrimp, which called to me for some reason. I had a good bag of shrimp from Pietro, and all the ingredients, and took a deep breath, and made the new dish later that week.


I forgot the part about it needing to chill for 8-10 hours, so I pulled together the Sundried Tomato Gnocchi, and we ate these shrimp the following night, as we watched Harry Potter, The Prisoner of Azkaban.  So, while I had to make 2 things one night, I had nothing to do the following night, which was Friday, and who doesn’t want a no-cook dinner on Friday night? Also, once the shrimp are cleaned and peeled, this comes together in minutes. It’s really fast.

So, for lots of reasons, including how they taste, these are one of the best new things I’ve made in a long time.  Ella liked them, Finn liked them less (a little too much heat) and they made the kitchen smell really delicious, tart and pickle-y. A lot like summer. I used a premade spinach dip, which sounds strange, but it cuts the heat, so I’d make sure to buy a good one or make the one in the recipe.  If there are any leftover, I’m sure they’d be great on Day 2. Or for a picnic. Or an appetizer.  However you use them, you won’t be sorry.

The recipe is here: Pickled Shrimp with Creamy Spinach Dip.

Salad “Nicoise” for Kids

by Lisa

This dinner began with a piece of albacore, which we eat with some regularity.  We can buy it fresh at our farmers market and it’s a favorite with everyone.  I’m not sure what sent me down the composed salad path, but it might have had something to do with the week of composed salads we ate after Easter and something to do with the fact that I’m tired of the Korean style tuna we’ve been eating–delicious as it is. And it definitely had something to do with the fact that Finn doesn’t often like his foods all mixed up. So if I can separate ingredients without trouble, sometimes I do. For this salad, I made this easy dressing with what I had on hand.  I didn’t have a lot of traditional Nicoise ingredients (potatoes, olives) but I had other things: a tender Boston bibb lettuce and some baby Romaine, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, white beans, artichokes.  I did a quick pan sear of the tuna, roasted the baby artichokes, steamed the green beans. I topped the tuna with the dressing and set out the other ingredients out on the counter with the dressing.

Here’s the very best part: kids get to choose what goes on their plates.  I dressed each ingredient individually in the glass bowl, which is the traditional way to prepare a Nicoise in any case, and then set it on their plates.  Caroline & I are together on this: when you can give kids choice and control, that’s always a good thing. This was Finn’s custom plate: tuna, white beans, green beans, lettuce. He came back for seconds.  I think we also had some fresh bread.

The second best part: everything can stay at room temperature so it was ready to go for my husband and I later that evening. In one of those great moments when what makes the kids happy makes the grown up happy, we had a win/win kind of night. And: you can endlessly adapt this: substitute canned tuna or salmon, fresh snap peas or carrots….whatever you have on hand.