Here are some ideas from our kitchen recently.
Roasted shrimp with feta: This recipe has all of the elements of a great dinner. It’s got hearty protein and lots of herbs, plus flavor, cheese, crunchiness and great presentation. In the past, I have prepared this dish for company and served it straight from the pan. The fennel is the secret here. I’ve never been a huge fennel fan but the anise flavor in this dish is subtle and gives the meal just the right amount of zing. I watched a couple of videos online to make sure I was cutting the whole fennel properly. Once diced, the fennel is added to a hot pan of olive oil until it softens. Other ingredients like garlic, tomato paste, diced tomato, oregano, Pernod and salt are added to the same simmering pan. Once you add the shrimp and the feta cheese, you sprinkle on a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley and lemon zest blended with a little more olive oil and pop it in the oven until it’s nicely browned. Ina Garten has a great recipe for this at foodnetwork.com. The dish is filling and has enough color in it to make side dishes unnecessary, but I always make popovers or bread rolls for the table.
Chicken and broccoli stir-fry: Having a bottle of hoisin sauce in your pantry can always help put a stir-fry dish on your table fast. I usually stock up on soy sauce and sesame oil as well. With those staples and some vegetables and a favorite protein, I can whip up a number of Asian-inspired dinners. On this evening, I used about a pound of chicken, a handful of leftover broccoli I had in the refrigerator and some scallions. I cut off the florets but I also keep the stalks (my favorite parts) and toss them in the pan separately. The recipe calls for fresh ginger as well, but I have used dried spices and my family members don’t seem to notice. It’s best to add the ingredients in a couple of steps. I also add red chili flakes according to which family members are having dinner and whether they like a little heat. Recipes for stir-fry are abundant online and I have used a variety of options to get started. I always serve this over rice — white or brown is fine.
Salmon baked in foil: One of the first lessons I learned about cooking is that you can prepare almost anything in foil. On this night, while I usually prefer the charred flavor of grilled salmon, I wasn’t in the mood to bring out the stovetop grill or to spend any time outdoors in the sweltering heat. So, I had a few pieces of wild-caught salmon that I put skin-side down on a bed of lemon slices and fresh herbs on a foil square. I had some rosemary this time, but I have used other options including thyme. My preference is fresh dill, but I was fresh out. I seasoned the salmon with salt and pepper and sprinkled on a little olive oil and some fresh lemon juice. I topped it with dried dill and sealed the foil square up tight. I baked the salmon for 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven. It was perfect. I made broccolini and mashed potatoes at the request of one of my children. I also have topped the salmon with a blend of herbs and diced tomatoes and olive oil, with similarly delicious results.
Fillet of beef sandwiches: While we love a nice beef tenderloin in my household, sometimes a heavy steak dinner is too much. On those days, I make sandwiches. I prefer to use sourdough baguettes cut into deli sandwich-sized servings. I cook the steak to medium rare or just a bit under that temperature. (I prefer rare steak, cooked to a temperature that any good surgeon could revive, but my family members require their beef to be cooked a little more.) I have used steaks or a smaller, approximately 2-pound tenderloin. I season the steak well and then slice it very thin. I pile the beef onto the bread with a good handful of arugula and salt and pepper. I usually put some room-temperature, salted butter on the bread beforehand, but it’s not necessary. The meat can also be topped with any sauce or condiments. I usually prefer mine plain, but if I have blue cheese I will add that to the sandwich. I don’t heat the bread first because I like the freshness of sourdough and the texture of the overall sandwich. But you can use any type of bread and you can toast it in the oven beforehand. Fruit is the best accompaniment to this meal. Watermelon is my preference.
Salad: My favorite salad starts with chopped romaine lettuce, croutons, shavings of good Parmesan cheese, grated carrots (I grate my own rather than buy the precut options), diced tomatoes (I dice them very small and usually don’t use the guts of the tomatoes) and meat. We add whatever we have on hand, including chicken breasts, shrimp or steak. Most recently, I had a leftover grilled chicken breast that I added to my daughter’s salad and frozen shrimp that I thawed and heated up for the rest of the family. My daughter prefers chicken to all other types of protein. I dressed the salad with a mixture of the following: ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, a few minced garlic cloves, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of anchovy paste (I keep a tube of it in the refrigerator) and salt and pepper. Dried oregano is an option as well. It’s a show-stopper and friends always ask for the recipe for this dressing. This salad also demands a hearty, crusty bread on the side.
Chocolate cake: We ordered takeout twice this week so I took the opportunity to try a new recipe. I have a couple of chocoholics in my house so I have been working to perfect my chocolate cake recipe. This recipe claims to be “The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake” (found at thestayathomechef.com) and it was pretty darn good. It was easy to make, although I used a good deal of the unsweetened cocoa powder that I had on hand, including some expensive Mexican powder I picked up on a vacation back when we used to be able to take vacations. The recipe calls for hot water but I used strong, brewed coffee instead. It’s something I always do in chocolate recipes to perk up the flavor of the cocoa. The cake was very moist and really tasty. The frosting had butter and cream cheese, giving it just a little zest along with the sweetness. It was delicious. I will definitely bake this cake again.