So Smug, Yet So Delicious

At the top of our weekly menus lately is sautéed tilapia fillets with a pan sauce, sautéed spinach and a baked rice or barley. It’s a pretty plain meal on the surface: fish, green, grain. But put together, I am really pleased with it. The white wine vinegar pan sauce is vinegary and mustardy; the lemon-caper sauce, delightfully acidic; the spinach has a mustard kick to it. And the basic rice tempers the sharper flavors. Everything is really pretty simple, doesn’t take too long to prep and prepare, especially once these get into the regular rotation. And bonus: SUPER SMUG winter healthy eating meal.

For the tilapia, I use recipes from How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson, which hurr hurr is actually a book. But, in theory, the book teaches you several methods of cooking which you can easily memorize and replicate without too much trouble. *I* happen to be the kind of person who looks at almost every recipe every time I cook it, no matter how many times I’ve made it in the past because I am a rule follower. My one beef with this book is that it requires a lot of flipping back and forth and jumping around for the instructions for one dish. For the fish I had directions on one page for cooking the fillets, ingredients for the pan sauce on another, and the directions for the pan sauce on a third. The thinking, I guess, is that I won’t need to flip between these pages once I’ve committed the process to memory, but I am not that kind of cook right now. The nice thing about this book is that everything is simple and easy. These are supposed to be things you would just “throw together” if you were that kind of person.

(Edited to add: now that I have made variations of this fish + pan sauce several times I actually don’t have to flip between pages as much, I am doing some of the steps without thinking so perhaps the book IS teaching to cook without looking at the book.)

(I would also like to add that I did not think that fish would be good to eat leftover, but this actually is. I throw it back in a pan with melted butter and the crisp sides get a little extra crispy. I can throw a mini-version of the pan sauce together to have on top as well. It goes really well with a salad for lunch.)

Sautéed Tilapia from How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson

2 T butter

2 T olive oil

4-5 fish filets, ~1 1/2 pounds

1/4 c flour on a plate or in a shallow pan

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a 11 or 12 inch skillet over low heat. While the pan is heating, sprinkle the fish on both side with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.
  2. A couple of minutes before sautéing, increase the heat to medium high. When the butter stops foaming and starts to smell nutty brown, arrange 2 filets in the skillet. Cook until light golden brown and a crust forms, 2-3 minutes. Turn with a thin, metal spatula and continue to cook until light golden brown on the other side, about 1-3 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a plate; keep warm on the stovetop or set the plate in a warm oven while the reaminig fish cooks. Put the two remaining pieces of fish in the skills; repeat sautéing process.

White Wine Vinegar Pan Sauce

6 T chicken broth

2 T white wine vinegar

2 T dijon mustard

1 T butter

Combine the broth, vinegar and mustard in a measuring cup, stir together. Pour liquid into hot skillet once fish has been removed. Reduce liquid to 1/4 cup. Whisk in the butter, then spoon over each portion of fish to serve.

Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce

6 T chicken broth

2 T lemon juice

2 t drained capers

1 T butter

Combine the broth, lemon juice and capers in a measuring cup, stir together. Pour liquid into hot skillet once fish has been removed. Reduce liquid to 1/4 cup. Whisk in the butter, then spoon over each portion of fish to serve.

Baked Barley

Even though this barley cooks for 70-80 minutes, I count it as a really quick and easy side because all the prep is done way before dinner time. If you always have onions and can keep barley and dried porcini mushrooms on hand, this is an easy pantry dish. This is from America’s Test Kitchen, my long standby, in the book, The Best Slow & Easy Recipes. This book has a lot of really good stuff in it (baked risotto, cheesy baked rice, Tuscan White Bean stew, Hungarian Goulash).

Baked Barley with Porcini Mushrooms

1 1/2 c pearled barley

3 T butter

1 medium onion, minced

1 t salt

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced

1 t fresh thyme leaves (I use ~1/2 t dried)

3 1/2 c water

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the barley in an 8 inch square glass baking dish.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the water. Cover the pot, increase the heat to high, and bring he mixture to a boil. Once boiling, stir the mixture to combine, then immediately pour over the barley.
  3. Cover the baking dish tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil. Bake the barley until it is tender and no water remains, 70 to 80 minutes.
  4. Remove the baking dish from the oven, uncover, and fluff the barley with a fork. Recover the dish with foil and let the barley stand for 10 minutes before serving.


Baked Risotto, from Cover & Bake (When I went to link this book on Amazon, I see that it’s no longer available new, out of print I suppose? But this book is worth buying used or from a third-party seller, if just for the macaroni and cheese, baked ravioli and baked risotto.)

This does not mimic the exact texture of traditional risotto cooked on the stove, but its a darn good easy side dish.

Baked Risotto

3 1/2 c chicken broth

2 bay leaves

4 T butter

1 medium onion, minced

3 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin (I just used minced)

2 c Arborio rice

Large pinch of saffron (optional) (I never use saffron because I don’t keep it on hand)

1/2 c dry white wine

2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 1 c)

ground black pepper

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring the broth and bay leaves to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the broth warm until needed.
  2. Melt the butter in a 12 inch skillet oven over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and saffron, if using; cook, stirring frequently until the grain edges are transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the wine is completely absorbed by the rice, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or shallow casserole dish of similar size) and pour the warm broth over the top. Bake until the rice in tender and all the liquid is absorbed, 25-30 minutes. Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately.

And Sautéed Spinach, originally posted on Food Lush

One thought on “So Smug, Yet So Delicious

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Menu | delicious happy life

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