Wednesday, July 6, 2011

That's what Friends are for

All too often, making dinner becomes a routine that lacks the creativity we need to make it enjoyable for everyone involved. It can be mundane.

Yesterday was one of those nights. I had one more night before I went on my weekly grocery store run, so I was trying to use up what I had in my fridge so in a moment of procrastination, I picked up the phone to call my friend Joan.

We immediately started chatting about what we were planning to do for dinner.  She was going to take the kids to a movie and grab a bite beforehand.  She had nothing in the fridge, so dinner at home was out of the question. Hmmmmm... nothing?  That sounded pretty unlikely to me, so I started to pry about what was in her fridge. Eggs? Yes.  Carrots? No. Cold cuts? Cheese?  As it turns out, she had eggs, cheese, spinach and some leftover ham.  I suggested muffin tin frittatas.  She liked that idea, but ultimately decided to eat out that night.

The significance of this story is not what Joan* did. After all, she still ate out with the kids. The significance is that this conversation helped me to envision a better dinner for my family that night. (It wasn't supposed to be all about me!) In short, I adapted.  I realized I had half a baked sweet potato sitting in the fridge, as well as one chicken and roasted garlic sausage.  So what started out as a very minimal eggs & grits in my head became sweet potato grits with a poached egg along with grilled sausage garnished with freshly cut chives from the garden. I also remembered two cans of Wild Alaskan Salmon in the pantry. That became dinner the following night in the form of Pesto Salmon Cakes coated in cornmeal flour with a spinach salad.

So next time you feel you're in a dinner rut -- even if you think you have a barren fridge -- I suggest you pick up the phone and call Joan. Okay, call one of your friends who's willing to listen. They may not suggest anything helpful at all, but you may be surprised what the process can do on your end. Just talking about it may help you find your way out of the maze of mundane cooking we all find ourselves in from time to time.

Salmon Cakes with Pesto Mayonnaise Coated In Cornmeal Flour with Simple Spinach Salad
Serves four

Four cans of good salmon (preferably Wild Salmon) packed in oil, drained but not rinsed – you need the oil to bind the cakes together.

1/3 cup of pesto mayonnaise (1/3 mayo mixed with two tablespoons of pesto.)
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Cornmeal flour (Bob’s Red Mill has a great one.)
1/4 cup of Canola oil (for lightly frying.)

In a large bowl, mix together the salmon, 1/2 the pesto mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest and lightly season with salt and pepper.

In a shallow bowl pour about two cups of cornmeal flour and set aside. Line a baking pan with wax or parchment paper and set next to the bowl of cornmeal flour.

With a wooden spoon take a good scoop of Salmon mixture out and make a patty.

Place the patty in the cornmeal flour and flip it once to make sure both sides are coated.  Now place the floured patty on your sheet pan.  Repeat this until you have about 8 to 10 patties.

Set the Salmon patties in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  The longer they sit in the fridge, the better chance you have of them not falling apart when you fry them in the pan.

Preheat your oven to 350˚.

Place a 10” non stick skillet on your stove (or cast iron pan if you have one) and heat over medium heat.  Add 1/2 the oil to your pan and wait for it to heat up.  When it starts to spread across the pan, it should be hot enough to cook the Salmon patties in.

When your pan is ready, add the patties and cook them about 3 minutes each side.  Repeat until all the patties are cooked adding more oil if needed.  Place them on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes.  Remember, you are not fully frying them so resist putting more oil in the pan than you need.

Patties will be a light golden brown when ready.  Serve two patties per person with Spinach salad and remaining pesto mayo.

Spinach Salad
4 handfuls of baby spinach (I buy the washed variety)
1 tsp. of Dijion mustard
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of good red wine vinegar (Trader Joe’s red wine vinegar is my favorite.)

Mix mustard, olive oil and red wine vinegar in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and then toss with Spinach.  Serve with Salmon Cakes.

Other quick dinner tricks
For simple muffin tin Frittata's:  Pre-heat oven to 350˚.  In a food processor, pulse  together 1/2 tsp. salt, 6 egg whites, six eggs, 1/2 cup of grated cheese (my fave is Gruyere) and 4 oz. of steamed spinach.  Butter muffin tins (med. tin should hold 12 muffins) and pour in egg mixture almost to the top.  Bake for 15 min. turning tins once.  You can substitute, sautéed mushrooms, or peppers and onions for spinach.  Simple and freezes well.  :-)