Main Dishes


Oh lovelies. It feels like it’s been a while, probably because it has.  I was out of town for several days this past week, working like a madwoman on a case.  Though the work was kind of exciting and allowed me to keep the most delightful company all week, I was very glad to come home – to my own bed, my house, my sweet husband, my cats, and my kitchen.

I wrote up this recipe before I left but didn’t have time to post while I was on the road.  This is a perfect dinner for a night when you come home late, weary from the day but with a ravenous belly.  It’s quick, satisfying, and falls squarely in that tiny space in my mind where I turn when I say “it’s either this or chips and salsa.”  Bear with me, friends, and more regular posts will resume soon.  In the meantime, go bake some bread!

(Keep reading Skillet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Salsa Verde…)


Do you know what I have spent the past several weeks doing? I mean, aside from working and traveling and playing with my iPhone. I have been dealing with the fact that the dumbest of our three cats (which, really, is a dubious distinction) has a new-found and insatiable attraction to all power cords. As in, he wants to chew through them.

In some ways, this discovery has been a relief. I now know that I wasn’t crazy to think that the phone on my nightstand was just plain dead. Only instead of the rigor that eventually seizes all things with rechargeable batteries, this was the kind of deadness that comes when someone chews clean through the phone line to its base. Same for the keyboard on my desk. And the Kindle charger. Make that two Kindle chargers.

We have sprayed everything with Bitter Apple. We have replaced some cords and patched others with electrical tape. And we have embarked on an extended campaign of terror with respect to Charlie and these damned cords. The goal is to get him to think that cords are bad and scary and yucky and not interesting to chew. Sometimes, this campaign involves spraying him with water. Sometimes it involves waving a cord around and yelling in a menacing way. Sometimes it involves bringing him near a cord he has just chewed and smacking the cord whilst shouting BAD BAD BAD BAD. And sometimes – like, say, this afternoon – it involves all of the above.


He’s a fundamentally sweet cat, and he’s impossibly cute (see above - the perpetrator at rest), so it’s hard to stay mad at him. I would just appreciate it if he could postpone indefinitely his efforts towards a self-induced electrocution so I could spend more of my scarce free time in the kitchen and less of it crawling around spraying all of our cords with foul-tasting substances. (If you ever think you don’t have much in the way of electronics in your home, try coating the length of every cord with something wet and messy – you will be amazed).

One of the things I try to do with this site is provide a real-world glimpse into one approach to balancing a hairy schedule with a pattern of regular cooking. And it is, indeed, a pattern. A habit, even. I’ve become so entrenched in my preference for cooking dinner at home that I gravitate toward my kitchen even on nights when dinner doesn’t show up on the radar until after 9. Of course, I’m human and not a cooking automaton. Sometimes I’m just plain tired and hungry. Sometimes I need dinner to come together in a matter of minutes. And sometimes I need it to be an act of mixing rather than actual cooking.

Here is a trio of salads that, when put together as an ensemble, make a truly lovely dinner with absolutely minimal effort. Everything here, save the produce, are pantry/fridge staples in our house. If they aren’t staples in your kitchen, they should be. The first recipe comes from the lovely Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. The second is a variation on that theme. The third is a bit of a grownup’s approach to the mayonnaise-and-pickle-relish tuna salad we all know and love. The quantities here will handsomely feed two ravenous adults, or four with more demure appetites. All of it can be easily doubled, as well as tweaked and augmented to suit your taste. Think of these recipes as guidelines rather than strict prescriptions.
(Keep reading A Trio of Salads…)


Oh dear.  I have become a woman who carries a pile of gadgets wherever I go.  It started innocently enough – a small cell phone.  Then an iPod.  Then a Blackberry.  Then a Kindle.  Then the cell phone died.  Then I got an iPhone.

People, I have a phone that farts on command.  Sixteen different ways.  I’m not sure if this is a sign that we, as a society, have reached a cultural and technological zenith, or if the other three horsemen are going to be pulling up soon, but it pretty much blows my mind either way.

As I type this, I’m sitting on a plane home a quick work trip to Chicago’s strip mall-dotted suburbs with a laptop on the tray table and a bag at my feet full of the aforementioned cadre of gadgets.  How is it possible that I have become a person who travels with four different power cords?  Heaven forbid one of these things should run out of juice (really, it happened last week during another even shorter trip, and it kind of sucked).  If nothing else, the many feet of cords that fill the bottom of my suitcase would have made it possible for me to rappel from the 11th floor of the Hyatt Lisle should the need have arisen.  A sort of modern-day Rapunzel.  After all, it’s good to have contingency plans.


It doesn’t seem like too terribly long ago that all I had was a cell phone.  A cell phone that did one thing: make calls.  It was years before I had a phone with a camera, which I used for nothing other than filling its memory card several times over with candid shots of the cats (Max in a box, Max next to a box, Max thinking about a box, Phoebe eyeing Max in a box with a glint of her trademark evil in her eye, etc.).  I eventually started work and received a Blackberry, the life force that sustains every modern attorney.  It was equipped with an even better camera, which afforded me the opportunity to take more completely inane cat pictures.  One day, however, the world turned on its axis when I found myself in line at Starbucks, realizing this Blackberry had been placed in my hands for the sole purpose of being able to discretely photograph the breast cancer awareness ribbon the Starbucks employees had made by taping packets of  Sweet N’ Low to the backsplash behind the barista.  That was technology at its finest.

It went downhill from there.  Forget an actress’s name while driving to Costco?  Google it from the Blackberry.  Need a makeshift flashlight to find a misplaced set of keys in the early morning without waking up a sleeping spouse? Turn on any one of the backlit screens and let its anemic glow light the way.  And the capacity, oh, the capacity.  Between an iPod and a Kindle, there’s enough capacity to fill even the longest, worst airport layover with thousands of diversions.

And then there’s the iPhone, which puts the rest of these things to shame.  The same little wad of metal and plastic that cheerfully woke me up on cue this morning (at the unholy hour of 4:45 pacific time) kept me entertained with a dozen games as I waited standby for my flight home (three times) and will help me pick a traffic-free route home from the airport.  It’s amazing, really.  And a little exhausting when I think back to the days when my purse held only a tiny wallet, a tube of lipstick, and that first single-purpose cell phone.


Sometimes, a little simplicity is a welcome refuge from the complexities we heap upon our lives with such abandon.  Or maybe I’m easily amused by things like fried capers.

After seeing fried capers mentioned three or four times in the course of a weekend, I really had to try them.  Wow.  Just…wow.  When introduced to a skillet of shimmering olive oil, they bloom.  Literally.  They open up into tiny florets as they brown.  Briny and crisp, they are delicious by themselves and stunning alongside something equally simple like garlicky shrimp.  For kicks, I’ve added fried garlic to the mix here, but you can mix and match the garlic and capers as you please.  My garlic was a fantastically weird and wonderful smoked variety – almost a garlic pickle – but plain raw garlic works just as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, I keep bags of flash frozen shrimp from Costco on hand for dishes like this.  They thaw in a few minutes in cold water.  Once that’s covered, you can bang this whole dish out in about 15 minutes.  Marinate the shrimp for a few hours in a bowl in the fridge if you feel like it, or let them have a quick nap in the oil and lemon juice while you fry your capers.  Both will be lovely, and refreshingly simple.

(Keep reading Simple Shrimp with Capers and Garlic…)


I’m sorry to say that I’ve never had a fried Snickers bar.  Among the many inconveniences that come with my peanut allergy, I think the inability to eat something so uniformly described as “AWESOME” pretty much tops the list.  That, and the awkwardness that ensues whenever I realize food someone has just given me is peanut-laden only after getting it in my mouth.  There just isn’t much you can do to make spitting something out in your napkin look graceful or well-mannered.  Nor does the subsequent surreptitious wiping of one’s tongue with the same napkin ever achieve a quality you might associate with good upbringing.

So I can’t eat a fried Snickers bar.  Still, I’m tickled by the idea.  The increasing prevalence of Fry Daddies and the like isn’t helping anyone’s waistline, but it has fostered a hilarious environment wherein every eureka-like declaration of WE SHOULD FRY THIS is met with a hearty YEP!

I don’t own a Fry Daddy – I figure anything I do to make it more convenient to deep fry my food is probably a bad thing.  That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally fill a Dutch oven with oil and bang out some onion rings, but it’s just enough hassle this way to keep my love of fried bits in line.

Skillet frying is less cumbersome and less dangerous than full-throttle deep frying, but it’s still an absolute mess, both for your kitchen and for your insides.  Fried chicken, the best-known hero of the skillet frying world, is one of those favorites that I find myself making less and less frequently as I get, um, older.  If you had told 22-year-old Bria that she would find herself looking for baked alternatives to her favorite fried foods within the decade, she would have laughed and turned back to her experiments with fried cookie dough (verdict: not as good as it sounds like it should be).  And yet, here I am, giving you my recipe for totally fake fried chicken.


It has all the same elements on the front end – dry layer, wet layer, dry layer.  The cornflakes are so crunchtastically heroic that they don’t need any help from hot oil in creating a satisfying, crisp exterior.  The oil is kept to an absolute minimum – just what you need to keep things from sticking to the baking dish.  Plus, you don’t have to stand over the stove, babysitting a sputtering skillet. There’s no need to turn the pieces or check in as they cook; just pop the dish in the oven and go about cleaning up the kitchen or readying the rest of dinner.


You should be able to have the chicken nearly ready in the time it takes the oven to heat up, making this a handy entree with the requisite speed for weeknight dining prep.  Pick up a few packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts whenever you find them on sale and wrap them individually in plastic for easy freezing/defrosting.  As noted, this recipe can be easily multiplied to suit your needs, though I would always err on the side of having more crushed cornflakes than you need so you don’t end up with extra milk-dredged chicken pieces.  Leftovers will reheat better in the oven than the microwave.

(Keep reading Oven-Fried Chicken…)


When I left college after my sophomore year, hoping the impending summer would bring news that one of my transfer applications had been accepted elsewhere, I made a list of things I would miss about Tiny Women’s College On the East Coast (TWCOEC).  It was a short list, hence the transfer applications.

The list was so short that I could barely believe it had been so hard to decide to leave TWCOEC.  After all those nights staring out my window, wondering whether I was making the right choice, shouldn’t it have been a little harder to leave?  In later years, I would come to realize that my hesitation in pulling the trigger had less to do with my feelings about TWCOEC and more to do with the fact that I was, in a way, admitting to colossal failure.  After all, this was the school I had most wanted to attend.  I had been so sure…sure enough that I didn’t apply anywhere else.  I was accepted early decision in December of my senior year of high school.  A few essays, an interview, and just like that, it was done.

Like so many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  More than a decade later, I can say that it actually was.

But back to that list.  One of the things I knew I would miss most was my job.  I’ll talk about it more fully another day, but I really loved working at the campus bed and breakfast.  I waited tables, bartended, manned (womanned?) the front desk, and worked as a prep cook in the kitchen.  Most of my knife skills and menu-planning abilities were developed there.  My cooking today is the product of many influences, but the experiences I had in that kitchen were truly formative.


Among the other things on the list is a particular presentation of mussels at Marbles, one of the only mildly upscale restaurants in TWCOEC’s tiny town.  Their preparation was nothing special – just steamed with a little garlic.  But then, before being plated, they were transferred to an herbed broth that was ever-so-gently kissed with tomatoes.  The result was heavenly.  It was by far the nicest thing you could order at any restaurant within walking distance of campus, and I had it every time I went.  The food in TWCOEC’s dining halls was unpredictable, the awkward result of an attempt to meet the many dietary requests you would expect to find on a campus of 1200 highly privileged young women – vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, high protein, and fruitarian.  The old adage about the disastrous results that come from too many cooks in the kitchen doesn’t even begin to contemplate the horrors from attempting to satisfy too many palates at the table.

But sitting at Marbles, with a trail of that glorious broth dribbling down my wrist as I slurped the mussels from their shells, I may as well have been hundreds of miles away.  Of the few details from that time that I chose to remember vividly, that broth leads the list.  Over the past few weeks, recreated it for myself to enjoy with scallops, one of my favorite quick proteins.  Scallops cook fast, taste great, and are incredibly low in calories and fat.  I keep a bag of flash-frozen sea scallops from Costco on hand, quickly defrosting what I need in a bowl of cool water before searing them in the pan.

The proportions here are for one serving – John is working on a case that has gone to trial, so his evenings are spent at the office reviewing materials for the days to come and I’ve become somewhat of a trial widow.  Double this recipe if your table is set for two; smack your lips and grin about how well you’re eating if you enjoy it solo, as written.

(Keep reading Scallops with Herbs and Tomatoes…)


My neighborhood smells like perfume. Though my schedule over the past few weeks has been somewhat chaotic (it may not surprise you to know that the bankruptcy world is a little…what’s the word…busy these days), I cannot resist pausing on the landing on the way out the door each morning to inhale the crisp, damp air. Laden with moisture from the previous night and the impending threat of the week’s summer storms, it burgeons with the heady presence of jasmine, roses, and lemon verbena. Dewy brush and grass begin to warm in the morning sun and the scent reminds me of an old campground, even though we are in the middle of a gargantuan city. The Hollywood hills are strange this way – a wild island in the midst of a sea of concrete. Despite the messy realities of my upcoming day, in those moments the scented air makes the world seem perfect.

Eventually, those realities catch up with me. My job, like so many others, can be unpredictable from week to week. It’s not uncommon for me to interrupt a nice leave-by-6:30 streak with two weeks of complete crazy, only to return to relative calm once again. During those busy times, it’s critical for me to keep things on hand that can easily be thrown together into real food. This week, a few simple ingredients – polenta, Italian sausage, and tomato sauce – have made for a few fast and delicious dinners that I’d love to share with you.

This is one of my lightning-fast recipes. It’s so incredibly simple, I almost hate to call it cooking - it feels more like ingredient assembly to me (though, really, you can say that about all cooking if you take a big enough step back). Consider this one of those baby steps between picking up takeout and cooking something complex. I set a timer last night to see just how long this takes. It seems fast, but my sense of time is roughly as accurate as a terrier’s, so some objective verification was necessary. From opening the fridge to plating the finished food, I clocked this in at around 9 minutes, and that included the sliced polenta modeling session on my cutting board. Four ingredients, two pans, less than 10 minutes. Wowza.


If you aren’t familiar with polenta, my lovelies, you should be. I cheat and buy the precooked kind. You can easily make your own, though it can be a little time-consuming. Precooked polenta typically comes in either a roll or a loaf (both called a chub). I like the roll because it slices into disks very easily. You can usually find it near the salami/pepperoni in the grocery store. Made of corn, polenta is a hearty, delicious alternative to pasta (and delightfully wheat-free for our gluten-avoiding friends). Though delicious in savory dishes, as I suggest here, it also makes a wonderful addition to the breakfast table. Sauté and top with maple syrup for rib-sticking, corn-based goodness.


(Keep reading Polenta with Tomatoes and Italian Sausage…)


I confess that I do not always feel extremely excited about cooking when I get home late.  But late or not, I’m usually excited about eating.  I always keep some kind of pasta – fresh or dried – on hand because it makes a fast, filling meal in a pinch (and, to be fair, my dad’s family is Italian and I will always think of pasta as comfort food).  There are more or less 15 minutes built in to every pasta preparation, between readying the water and cooking the pasta itself.  Recently, I started marking the prep time for other parts of the meal in relation to the time it takes the pasta to cook.  That is, I know I’ve got something really fast in my sights when I can safely say “you can make [whatever it is] before the pasta it goes with has had a chance to cook!”

You can make this artichoke pesto before the pasta it goes with has had a chance to cook!  See?  Neat.

Honest to goodness, I threw together this little saucey wonder a few weeks ago after getting home sometime north of 9 p.m., weary and belly a’growling.  It was absolutely delicious, especially when garnished with a few sliced campari tomatoes.  Artichoke recipes generally garner favor with me, but this one brings something special to the table (oh, ouch, that one even hurts to type).

Kindly note, this type of pesto is not cooked or heated before it is added to the pasta.  The residual heat from the noodles will warm it up just fine.  I suppose, if you want to get technical, this isn’t so much cooking as mixing.

On the mixing – you will notice that I recommend a food processor.  After owning one for a few years, I must say that it’s one of two kitchen electrics I deem critical to a well-functioning kitchen (the other being some form of electric mixer).  There are many, many things, this sauce included, that you can throw together with the most minimal effort if you can get your hands on a food processor.  Honestly, there are things I make now that I never bothered with in my pre-food processor days because they are simply too much trouble.  Anything that involves cutting fat into flour (biscuits, pastry dough, pie crust, etc.) is a great example – takes several minutes by hand versus a few seconds by processor.  I have a fantastic 7-cup model by Cuisinart, which I think is worth every penny (currently $99.95  at Amazon), and there are even less expensive models out there.  Hands down, it’s the kitchen electric I use most.

In addition to pasta, this sauce tastes fantastic on toasted artisan bread or crackers.  I also pulled off a lovely cold salad for lunch one day by mixing a few heaping spoonfuls of the pesto into a can of tuna and topping with avocados and tomatoes.  The brightness of the artichoke and the tang of the lemon-garlic flavors complemented the tuna nicely.

(Keep reading Easy Artichoke Pesto…)


In the past 29 years, I have rejected and subsequently reaccepted three categories of food in my diet: pie, soup, and Indian food. The latter was a matter of developing a taste for the flavor palette (and the result of the combined, persuasive efforts of many wonderful friends who had my best interest at heart and to whom I am incredibly grateful as I would have otherwise led a life without vindaloo). My vetoes of pie and soup were somewhat less rational. The pie thing was really a cake thing; I greatly prefer cake. Despite the fact that cake is not always available when pie is offered, I felt eating a slice of pie meant displacing the opportunity to eat a slice of cake. Much like my Doc Martens and paisley vest phases, it made sense at the time. I mean, for any given slice of cherry pie, can you really be sure there isn’t a piece of chocolate cake right around the corner? Hmm?

The soup thing…I can’t really explain. It was something about finding the combination of warm, savory, and liquid to be distasteful, though I can’t articulate anything more concrete than that. But the reason I started liking soup again was completely nutbar. At auditions for a production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in high school, I watched a line of hopefuls rattle off reasons why they each thought they would be well-suited to inhabit the role of Mr. or Mrs. Beaver. One girl (who ultimately ended up playing the White Witch), exclaimed “Mrs. Beaver just screams ‘soup’ to me, and I live and die for soup!” Thereafter, I liked soup. Nuts, right? I can’t make this stuff up.

But however it had to happen, I’m glad it did. Soup is a great anchor in the home cook’s repertoire. Most soup recipes can be doubled or halved with ease, making the output quite flexible to suit your needs. I like to make a batch and portion one or two servings into several Gladware containers – makes for easy lunches. Best of all, it’s so easy to get a full-bodied soup without adding much fat. Vegetable soups in particular offer a broad canvas for healthful creations that can, conveniently, make short work of any nearly ne’er-do-well produce lingering in your fridge. This little number served to salvage a massive wad of spinach that was starting to think about getting slimy.

As the title indicates, it’s stunningly green. If you’re looking for something a little less TMNT, add all of the spinach to the pot to simmer rather than adding half of it raw at the end.


(Keep reading Shockingly Green Cream of Spinach Soup…)


There is an amazing restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called eve.  It’s in Kerrytown, and if you ever find yourself in A2, you should go.   The food is exceptional, as is the ethos behind it.  The focus is on the ingredients, good ones.  Eve Aranoff, the chef-owner, allows her dishes to be both simple and intricately nuanced. She does not shy from ornate flavor profiles, but also serves the best steak you’ll ever have, seasoned only with a little salt and pepper.

One night last week, I came home hungry for salmon.  Curious what Eve had to say about it, I turned to her lovely cookbook and browsed until I found a variation on the following.  With individual salmon filets in the freezer and cooked rice in the fridge (a weekend ritual to provide the 3 tablespoons of cooked rice I need for our weekly multigrain sandwich bread), this was a simple but elegant menu to throw together in less than an hour.  As the pictures show, I served it with a very basic tomato and avocado salad, but anything fresh and green will accompany this well.  The original salmon recipe called for macadamia nuts, but I have a pile of slightly over-toasted almonds I’m trying to work through.  Either nut has a strong enough flavor to hold its own against the chili spices.



I apologize in advance for the extent to which you will crave this cornbread when you finish the first batch.  It started out innocently enough.  As so often happens to me, yesterday I read the word “cornbread” and had to incorporate it into dinner.  I don’t know why that happens – it’s like a fleeting idea of a particular dish will flip a switch in my brain and all of a sudden I am hungry for something I didn’t realize I wanted.  It’s fine when this happens with foods for which I have the necessary ingredients; not so much when I start jonesing for pan-seared foie gras.


So cornbread.  I started jazzing up cornbread a few years ago with diced apples and barbecue sauce – also delicious – and got really hooked on the idea that cornbread can take the main stage as an entrée rather than stay on the side dish sidelines.  I thought the savory trio of the onions, bacon, and cheese here would nicely complement the sweetness of the cornbread.  I didn’t really anticipate that the flavors would come together in a storm of perfection to create something I would end up dreaming about last night as I laboriously digested a third of the pan in my sleep (after intending to eat an eighth…oops).

There is cornbread and there is cornbread.  This is the latter.

(Keep reading Cowboy Quiche…)

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