Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country


“Breakfast” Burritos


Purely by accident, I’ve chosen the eggiest moment of the year to write about one of our favorite eggy meals. Depending on your shopping habits, you might be able to make this meal almost entirely from the Easter remainders in your refrigerator.  (You know that moment when you are looking at the 79-cent cartons of would-be-Easter-eggs and thinking, “How many eggs can we possibly color before the kids lose patience and begin dyeing themselves, the tips of their hair, and their fingernails in the vinegary fizz?”  And you think, “Eh…They’re only 79 cents.  And eggs keep a long time.  I’ll buy…oh, 15 dozen.”  If so, I’ve got a recipe for you!)

OK, so I bought only 2 dozen, and we colored, cracked, dropped, and/or maimed every last one:

Image Image Image

Happily, I seem to know a lot of people with very fertile chickens and ducks, and I guess a look like a woman who knows what to do with a carton of irregularly shaped, multicolored eggs, so I haven’t had to buy many eggs lately…except for the pearly white ones we were going to color.

Besides its ovocentrism, this recipe also strikes me as timely because this past week has been spring proper.  I mean, it has been SPRING.  Blue skies, fat clouds, the grass and newborn leaves glowing in obscure Crayola shades of green.  When the weather turns this fresh, even more than usual, I want to eat something fresh and bright and light.  Of course, we’re weeks and yawning weeks from the first ripe tomato or slim, curving green bean.  Even the lettuce in my garden is still many days from being big enough to pluck.

But I know a work-around.  And it’s a big part of this recipe.  It goes like this:


1 can of salsa-style tomatoes+ a handful of chopped cilantro + 4 chopped scallions + the juice of 1/2 a fat lime + a pinch of salt + 1/2 teaspoon of cumin + 1 slender clove of garlic + 1 teaspoon olive oil.  Whizz it up. (I use my immersion blender.) Done.

If you like your salsa hot and smoky, add about 1/4 teaspoon of ground chipotle.  If you like it mild and smoky, add about 1/4 teaspoon of ground ancho OR smoked paprika.

It’s so bright and fresh tasting, you’ll be able to hang on until the growing season kicks in.  To tell you the truth, I often make this kind of salsa even during tomato season because it involves so little chopping, and everyone loves it so much. My daughter calls it her “special salsa.”  Why would I deny her her special salsa? (Just please don’t tell Barbara Kingsolver.)

Now, for the rest of the recipe:

“Breakfast” Burritos

(great for any meal of the day)

10 eggs, scrambled with a pinch of salt and a splash of milk or cream

1 teaspoon Penzey’s Southwest seasoning or Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming (or replace this with salt, chile powder, cumin, and garlic)

1/2 cup of chopped ham or diced bacon (We used leftover Easter ham this week.)

8 flour tortillas

About 1 cup of shredded cheese

Sour cream

1 avocado, chopped

4 scallions, chopped

Salsa (of course)

1. Scramble your eggs and cook them slowly in a large pan, over medium-low heat.  This will prevent them from browning on the bottom and growing tough. While they are cooking, sprinkle them with your Southwest seasoning blend.

2. Crisp your chopped bacon or ham in a cast iron pan.

3. Wrap your tortillas in foil and pop them in a 350-degree oven.

4. Prep your toppings.


5. In 15 minutes or so, when your eggs are fluffy and firm but not dry, serve a spoonful of eggs in each tortilla.  Let everyone top their own at the table. (Be sure to show your little ones how to use the sour cream as “glue” to seal up the tortilla!) Oh, and go ahead and serve some tortilla chips on the side because you’ll have salsa left otherwise…which wouldn’t do.

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Warm Kale Salad

I am not cool.

I never take part in any trend until it has become so popular that the truly cool people have abandoned it. I wait for all crazes to mutate from fashionable to pedestrian.  Then, invisibly, I join in.

For instance, when my husband bought  me “tall boots” for my birthday in January 2012 and informed me that I was meant to wear them over the legs of my jeans, I spent several days silently surveying of all the women I saw: How many were wearing tall boots over their jeans?  Did they look cool or just normal?  Only after I was satisfied that my boots were no longer especially fashion-forward did I adopt them. Now, I wear tall boots all the time, even though, of course, I’ve noticed that the really cool moms (like the hip teenagers) have switched to ankle boots.  I’ll get a pair of those in about 3 years. Maybe 4.

Similarly, the very first time I tentatively ventured out in a pair of Toms, the twenty-year-old girl working the register at Lowe’s said to me (I’m not making this up): “I like your Toms.  I used to wear mine all the time. I miss them.”

Me: What happened to your Toms?

Her: All the like 40-year-old moms in town started wearing them, so I had to quit.


Her: No offense or anything…

After that, I no longer felt self-conscious about them at all.  If the hipsters had given them up, it was perfectly fine for me to climb in and out of my minivan in a pair.

What does all of this have to do with my family’s favorite warm salad?  Its primary ingredient is kale, and kale (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) is all the rage.  I don’t do all-the-rage things.  I suspect kale is just about to cross over from trendy to conventional, which will make me feel much more comfortable about buying big bags of it every week.

Until then, I like to mix mine with some less groovy veggies, just to make sure  no one thinks I’m trying to be hip…which misconception would, like, totally ruin my rep.  Here, I’ve employed some painfully uncool red cabbage and and handful pedestrian green beans:

winter salad

Of course, if you’re not worried about your rep, or if you happen already to be wearing ankle boots or whatever summer shoe has replaced Toms in the allegiance of twenty-year-old girls with nose rings, you can feel free to use only kale in this recipe and skip the beans and cabbage.  Don’t tell, but I sometimes do that myself…when no one is looking.  (Of course, I sometimes use only cabbage.)

No matter how you mix it, this sturdy saute of vegetables, dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped with nuts and salty feta, may just become your all-season go-to “salad.” It comes together quickly, looks beautiful, and tastes astonishingly complex–sweet and salty, slightly bitter and pleasantly tart.

My only worry is that this recipe might ignite an internet cabbage-and-green bean craze–it’s that good–and I just hate it when ordinary vegetables go viral.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 small red onion, sliced into half-moons

1/4 lb. green beans

1/4 lb. kale

1/2 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 fat clove garlic (or two slender ones), crushed in a press

1-2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped salted nuts

1/4 cup crumbled feta

1. Heat the oil in a large, deep pan over medium heat.

2. Add the sliced onion and saute, stirring occasionally until soft and brown. (This will take about 3 minutes.)

3. Add the  beans and allow them to cook in the hot oil until they begin to blister, about 2-3 minutes. (Stir now and then but not constantly so that they will acquire some toasty color.) Both the beans and the onions should turn a little brown. The onions get sweeter as they get darker, so don’t be afraid of a touch of char.

winter salad 2

4. Reduce heat to low. Add the kale and purple cabbage, and sprinkle with salt. Saute, stirring frequently for about 2-3 minutes, until the kale and cabbage have wilted.

5. Turn off heat. Add the minced garlic and balsamic vinegar. Stir well to coat. The vinegar will form a light glaze over the hot veggies.

winter salad 3

6. Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds and feta cheese.  This is delicious warm or at room temperature.

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Hush-your-mouth-puppies (a.k.a. Cornbread balls)


Ten years ago, I was a childless twenty-something, strolling leisurely through the dairy aisle when I spotted something so horrible I’ve never forgotten it.  Blue squeezable butter substitute…or maybe blue squeezable butter substitute…or, alternatively, blue squeezable butter substitute.  I can’t choose which word to italicize.   That’s how appalled I was.  I’m not even sure this stuff would qualify as a “food-like substance.”  It doesn’t seem food-like at all, though I imagine it is, strictly speaking, edible.  If you need proof it existed, click here:

Why? I remember thinking.  Is it really necessary to coax kids to eat more butter substitute by making it look even less natural? 

Fast-forward ten years and three kids, and I understand a little better. It was marketed, I’m sure, as a tool to help moms convince their persnickety children to eat whatever food was to be underneath the blue goo.  Maybe moms would buy it imagining their children gobbling down their (blue) 100%-whole-grain toast or (blue) steamed broccoli?

Just to be clear: I still do not approve of blue squeezable butter substitute.  (I assume it’s now extinct, though I could certainly be wrong.) Butter comes in two versions in my house: salted and unsalted.  Period.  Sometimes it is whiter and sometimes yellower, but it is never, ever, under any circumstances, blue.

Nevertheless, I find myself thinking of the ectoplasmically fluorescent substance sometimes, when my brain sets to work tinkering with some already-delicious but nutritionally neutral (or worse) food in the hopes of making it more appealing to my featherweight children.  I tell myself it’s necessary: without nutritionally neutral foods, they might all disappear entirely!

So, from the blue-squeezable-butter-substitute department, I present to you this super cute, crazy yummy, calorically dense, nutritionally neutral creation. If your children seem in danger of disappearing, these should do the trick.  (My littlest one, who sometimes picks at a wedge of regular cornbread, ate five of these the first time I made them and six the second time.)

In order to make these little cuties, you will need a pan like this one.  It’s called an aebelskiver pan, and it’s theoretically used to make a Danish treat that crosses the delights of pancakes with those of donuts, while also giving you the opportunity to bury a hidden surprise in the middle.  I make aebelskivers a few times a year.  This recipe helps my pan earn its keep.

abelskiver pan

Begin with my regular cornbread recipe:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/3 cups buttermilk (This is the key ingredient, and, no, making your own out of milk and lemon juice won’t work just as well.)

2 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 large egg

PLUS: about 3 tablespoons of oil, for frying

1. Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another.  Combine the contents of those two bowls.

2. Heat your aebelskiver pan over medium-low.  (If you know and love cast iron as I do, I’m sure you know how to waltz with your cast iron cookery in order to keep it sizzling -but not scorching-hot.  On my stove, this usually requires beginning with medium heat and then scaling back to medium-low and eventually even to low-low…then sometimes up another smidgen.  You get the idea.)

3. Add a drizzle of oil to each of your little basins.  Then pour a test puppy.  I find that a hugely heaping tablespoon does the trick.  (In any case, fill almost but not quite to the top.)


It should sizzle and bubble and turn golden brown (but not blackish-brown) within about 90 seconds.  If  the pan seems ready, go ahead and fill your other wells.

4.  After a minute or so, when they look ready, use a knife, a knitting hook, or a bamboo skewer to turn them partway around like this:


See how the uncooked batter trickles out and down into the hot wells of the pan?  (By the way, the last time I made these, I had a diabolically wonderful idea.  If ever you want to truly amaze the parents at your child’s birthday party, put a little slice of hotdog in the middle at this point in the process.  Voila: homemade mini-corndogs.   The blue-butter department in my head may be running away with itself, I know…)

5. Flip them one more time when the underside is golden and cook for another minute or so.


6. Then keep them toasty in a warm oven until you’re ready to serve them.

7. Replenish the oil in your wells before you start a new batch and then repeat until you run out of batter.


This week’s menu

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This week's menu

Click on the picture to check out the recipe I used for pork roasted in milk. It was a wonderful, warming meal on a rainy day. If you make it, just be sure to save plenty of time to cook down your milk sauce. It should cook way, way down and turn a beautiful caramel color before you blend it up.

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Not-your-momma’s salmon cakes


I remember my mother’s salmon cakes fondly.

This is how her recipe went: Open up a can of salmon.  (I mean an old-fashioned can of salmon.  The tall can, the type available nationally prior to 2002 or so, when the little bitty cans of Bumble Bee “boneless, skinless” salmon came on the scene. This type of canned salmon includes bones–usually even a stack of vertebrae–and shimmery rubber skin.) Drain it and sort through it to remove the skin and the bones…or not.  I seem to recall my mom saying that my grandmother just mashed the bones up into the salmon cakes, for extra calcium. (And, to be fair, having been canned and then having soaked in salmon oil for all those months, they weren’t very bony–not for bones, anyway.) Then crumble up some saltines into the mashed salmon.  Add an egg.  Form them into little patties and fry them in corn oil.

They tasted pretty good, really.  Fishy but not distinctively salmony.  Crisp but not overly fried.  They were salty and flaky and a little dry, but, dipped in ketchup (!), they were tasty enough.

Let me be clear: Although there was nothing wrong with my momma’s salmon cakes (which, of course, we called “salmon patties”), these are very definitely not those.

For starters, they can be made from any kind of fish you and your family like.  The ones in these photos are actually made of trout, which (as I’ve told you before) is virtually indistinguishable from salmon and is available even in my small-town Midwestern grocery store.  (They  usually label it “Steelhead,” which I think is a technique they use to make you think you’re buying a new, fancy kind of salmon.  Sorry, fish guys, but I know how to google!)  You could also use a white-fleshed fish, though I’d recommend adding a little extra fat (either from mayonnaise or a drizzle of olive oil) so that they stay moist, if you do.

Another important difference: These begin with raw fish–either fresh or thawed. I know that the idea of pulverizing raw fish may sound a little yucky, but remember that doing so means not having to sort through a can of months-old salmon in search of rubberized bones.  That will help you get over it.  Also because they begin with raw fish, they don’t need an egg to hold together, so if your family suffers from egg allergies–or egg aversions–these will work for you.

Finally, these are full of flavorful green things and seasonings.  So, although they will taste like fresh fish, they will also taste bright and almost vegetal, especially when (in lieu of ketchup), you top them with some southwestern “aioli.”

Southwestern Fish Cakes

1 lb. fresh or thawed fish (trout or salmon, especially; skin removed)

1/2 cups of panko bread crumbs

1 small can of mild green chiles

1 small lime’s juice (about 2 tablespoons)

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

8 or so green onions, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1 1/2 tablespoons of Southwest seasoning (You know how I love my Penzey’s, but you can use any old Southwest seasoning blend you have on hand or create your own approximation with cumin, chile powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper)

olive oil and a bit of butter for pan frying.

1. On a cutting board, chop your green onions (whites and most of the greens) and cilantro.  In a small bowl, stir them together with the mayonnaise, drained green chiles, sour cream, and lime juice.

2. Pop the fish, the breadcrumbs, the seasonings, and about a quarter cup of the mayonnaise mixture into the food processor.  Pulse it until it’s about the consistency of ground beef.


3. Heat your heavy-bottomed skillet over medium/medium-high and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom.  Then add a pat of butter, which will give you a better flavor and a more attractive brown crust.

4. Form your fish mixture into five or six patties.  I like to leave them thick because they stay moister that way.  I’d like to tell you how thick, but I am absolutely terrible at estimating measurements.  This is what they look like when they are first hitting the hot pan:


And then after I’ve flipped them:


Go ahead and brown them for a few minutes on both sides, and they will be cooked through.  It doesn’t take long.

5. Serve with the remaining mayonnaise mixture.   Alongside a beautiful green salad and some good bread, these fish cakes will make you think that you are eating a light dinner at an understatedly wonderful restaurant that only the locals know about.