One of the things that I love about having a meal plan is that when life gets all wonky and hectic, like it has this week, the plan is still there, patiently waiting for me to follow its magical little yellow brick road to mealtime tranquility. I was looking back at the last week of posts this morning and saw that last Friday was my “Off-Balance for a Balanced Picnic” musing. Today might as well have been titled “Still a little off-balance but recovering and going with the flow.”
Because, as I’ve mentioned several times this week, we didn’t adhere to our normal shopping schedule, we got lots of some things (like produce), and not much of others (like pantry staples we were running low on); additionally, because we shifted our Leftovers night to Monday to help clear out all the food we made with the family when they were in town, the whole rest of the week got moved down the line and just sort of threw me for a loop. I kept thinking, for some reason, that I had oodles of time until Thursday and Friday to get the things I needed for those dinners…and then suddenly Thursday was upon us, and I hadn’t done what needed to be done. I was so out of whack that, although I had thought we’d have the grilled chicken dish I’d originally planned, I never took the chicken breasts out of the freezer, and didn’t realize it until lunchtime yesterday.
Off to the store on lunch break, with J. As we cruised the aisles, J. remarked that we hadn’t had fish in a while, and he’d really like to have that for dinner instead. I was on board (though we don’t usually buy fish at the grocery store — we have a fishmonger), as long as there was something decent-looking and reasonably priced. When it comes to seafood, I don’t like to fool around. But I reasoned that as long as I stayed away from the dangerous farm-raised saber-toothed possibly toxic and certainly irresponsible to serve to children types of fish, one purchase of seafood from the grocery counter would not kill us. Probably.
Screeech. Meal Plan Off-Roading. We were happily cruising down that yellow brick road, until my absentminded failure to thaw chicken led us to a detour. Maybe because I’m so used to following the plan, I am usually happy to take these opportunities to veer off into different territory. I’ve been asked once or twice by people who don’t plan the way I do (which, let’s face it, is most of humanity; as we’ve already established, I’m a serious culinary geek) whether it ever happens that we get to the next meal on the rotation, and it’s just not something I want to eat that night. My honest answer is generally “no” — while, yes, there are times when we all crave certain things and nothing else will quite do, on the other side of the equation is the fact that all this planning 1) keeps me sane, which is pretty good for the appetite; and 2) forces me to constantly consider variety. When you lay out before you on a sheet of paper all the foods you plan to eat and feed to your family for a whole month, it becomes instantly obvious that you’re intending to eat way too much chicken, that you’ve pushed a large number of fairly heavy meals into one short time span, or that you really need some new recipes for beef. However, there is one thing that doesn’t often happen with the plan: spontaneity. So when J. says “I’d like…” and it’s something I sort of feel like eating too, I’m ready to throw caution to the wind and head off the beaten path, tires squealing.
At the fish counter, I was dismayed to find almost nothing but sad-looking partially thawed items bearing “farm-raised” and “previously frozen” and other dubious labels. Only the Atlantic salmon (farm-raised, drat!) and one other item looked promising: Fresh-Caught Haddock. Not previously frozen. Not currently frozen. And according to its labeling, not farmed somewhere in a giant wading pool with genetically modified corn-based fish food being rammed down its gullet until high fructose corn syrup spewed from its gills.
Haddock’s not the world’s most exciting fish, I’ll grant you, but it looked and smelled fresh, so in the interest of ease and time (our lunch hour was ticking down), I decided to take it. A mental perusal of my fridge and produce drawer confirmed for me that there would be plenty of options for cooking the stuff. Serendipitously, it occurred to me that I actually had on hand everything I would need to make the same haddock dish my mother used to make when I was a kid; it’s not one I often do, but when you’re meal plan off-roading, the first and easiest impulse is usually the best.
The beauty part of the dish was that it showcased the remains of some of the loveliest produce from the Farmer’s Market — heirloom tomatoes from Pak Express, dill and parsley from Long Entry Farm, and on the side, a cucumber salad made with both regular and lemon cucumbers from the Zephyr Farm stall. Even better, it took almost no time to prepare and made very little mess in the kitchen. With some quick brown rice to soak up some of the juices, it was a very appealing dinner — even more so than I had remembered. I did gussy up the original dish a bit by using fresh dill instead of dried, adding parsley just to use up what I had on hand, and putting in a few cloves of finely minced fresh garlic, but it still took me straight back to childhood. As I watched L. chowing down (P., still teething, made a feeble attempt at dinner — yesterday was a hunger strike day for him), I remembered that this fish dish was one of my Mom’s go-to dinners on busy nights, and I’m thinking now that it may become one of mine. Every once in a while, you discover some great things when you put down the map and just let yourself go.
Mom’s Fish Dish
You could use any mild white fish for this recipe — I used haddock, but sole, tilapia, scrod, and even something sturdier like cod or halibut would all work. Just be sure that if you choose a meatier, thicker fish, you adjust the cooking time.
1 1/2 pounds of haddock fillets
3 large tomatoes, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (you could also use just about a tablespoon of dried dill weed)
4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lay out four to six sheets of aluminum foil and drizzle a little olive oil onto the center of each — just a teaspoon or two is fine. Combine the tomatoes, dill, parsley, and garlic in a bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper. Divide the fish into equal portions and lay one portion of fish onto each sheet of foil, directly on the oil (to prevent sticking). Sprinkle the fish fillets with a little salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato mixture over the top of the fillets. Seal the aluminum foil around the fish, making individual packets — be sure to seal tightly so they don’t leak. Place the packets on a baking sheet and cook at 375 for about 15-20 minutes, just until the fish is cooked through (it should flake easily with a fork and look opaque in the center, but not be turning to mush). Serve over rice or cous cous.