Wednesday, April 21, 2010

keeping it simple

There aren't cocktails, and desserts, and deviled egg platters around our house all the time. We have to fit through those subway doors in the morning, you know. So when Dan and I are the only people at the dinner table (AKA our coffee table), we eat pretty simply. We make things like big Greek salads, mustard-coated roasted chicken thighs, pasta with pesto. Our weeknight dinners aren't that exciting, but they are definitely tasty.

Usually when friends come over for dinner, I pore over my cookbooks and food magazines, trying to put together a menu of things that are new, different, exciting. But when we set up a date with our friend Martha for a Saturday night dinner, I felt exhausted by all of the recipes around me. Everything seemed too complicated, too rich, altogether too much. I wanted something simple. Something not impressive in the least. Call it food fatigue, I guess.

I felt like making something relatively light, like fish, and remembered a recipe for slow-roasted halibut from the April issue of Bon Appetit. The photo looked promising: thick, white filets topped with a crust of golden brown herby breadcrumbs. The magazine suggested serving the fish with a shaved asparagus and fennel salad, which at the time, sounded a little overly fussy. And I can't say I love raw asparagus. We would have fish and boiled potatoes instead. A salad of butter lettuce, radishes, snap peas, avocado, and fried shallots to start. Rhubarb for dessert. Simple.

As the fish baked in the oven, and I shook the cooked potatoes and garlic around in a stockpot (more on that below), I started to worry a bit. Would this be too simple? If you were to ask Dan what his least-favorite foods are, he would probably tell you potatoes and big pieces of white fish. Which I had conveniently forgotten about. When I start to get irrationally panicky right before serving a meal, I always ask myself, "Would you be excited to eat this in a restaurant or at someone's house if they served it to you?" I almost always say yes. And I did this time too.

The salad was very good. The creamy avocado was balanced by the crunchy shallots and snap peas. Balsamic vinaigrette added a nice tang. Everyone cleaned their plates, and I traded them out for the main course. The potatoes looked a little paltry, rolling around beside the fish. But they were deceptively delicious, flecked with chives and garlic and slicked with butter. The fish was moist inside and crispy on top from the breadcrumbs. "This is really good," everyone said, almost a bit surprised. "Really good." Guess who cleaned his plate first? Yep. 

Sometimes simple is the way to go. 

Simple spring supper
Radish, avocado, snap pea, butter lettuce salad
Slow-roasted sea bass
Garlicky potatoes with chives
Roasted rhubarb and ricotta

Garlicky potatoes with chives

This is a really off-the-cuff recipe. You can make it bigger or smaller depending on how many people you're feeding. I like about five small red- or yellow-skinned potatoes per person. In a large pot with a lid, boil the potatoes and a few cloves of garlic (about 1 to 2 cloves per four people) with their skins on until they are tender. When the potatoes are done, drain the water. Put the potatoes and garlic back in the pot and put the lid back on. Shake the pot a few times, so the potatoes get a little bruised and the garlic mashes. If the garlic does not look fully mashed, you can do so with a fork. Add a handful of minced chives, a few generous pats of butter, and some flaky salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

Slow-roasted sea bass
Adapted from Bon Appetit. The original recipe calls for halibut, but any thick cut of firm white fish will work. 
(Serves 6 people)

Olive oil (or nonstick oil spray)
2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
(I used hot dog buns...shh!)
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

6 6-oz. sea bass fillets

Coat rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, and lemon peel in another medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle melted butter over. Using fork, toss to incorporate evenly. Place fish fillets on the baking sheet, spacing apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide breadcrumbs among fillets to cover top (about 1/3 cup each), pressing to adhere. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake until opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Turn on broiler. Broil fish until breadcrumbs start to brown, about 1 minute. Serve hot.


lil miss dubin said...

I made the fish tonight, only with halibut. David doesn't even like halibut (a fact I conveniently forgot, because halibut is one of the few types I can tolerate, since I just started eating fish again after 17 years as a full vegetarian) and he gave it many compliments and finished the whole thing!

I made it with a Greek-style chopped salad, and a chunk of baked feta topped with stuff like capers, onions, and diced tomatoes (a super yum and fool-proof recipe I picked up from another friend's dinner party last weekend) served with pita chips.

Dessert: strawberries and vanilla yogurt. Et voila!


Lisa said...

Oh, Alice this makes me so happy! I'm glad it all worked out (in spite of both of our partners not liking white fish). The salad sounds amazing--I have to try that. Have a good weekend!

Daniel said...

I think the hot dog bun for baguette substitution is what made this dish.

Judy said...

Pretty new plates! Nice change.

kr2160 said...

love the sound of this spring menu - have been looking for a sea bass recipe, actually, and this looks really great.

Lisa said...

Daniel: Shh!

Judy: These are old plates, actually. Nice to dig them out, though. They feel like new again.

kr2160: Thank you! I hope you try it. It's a nice basic preparation.

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

I literally just thought I was reading my own blog post...not only is my boyfriend's name Dan, but we also frequent the coffee table for our meals. And the similarities didn't stop there. Just discovered your blog and have a feeling I'll be back!

Lisa said...

Sarah: Thanks, Sarah! I hope you will.


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