Today I bring you a full menu rather than one dish. This meal is simple, delicious, quick and relatively healthy. It can be multiplied to serve a crowd without much more effort or additional funds, and thus it is also a recent addition to my running list of “dinners fit for company costing less than $20.”
I thank Whole Foods, as much as anybody, for the idea. I had been given the opportunity to shop there due to an overnight stay in Cambridge, MA and I was awed at the prospect. For a girl that lives way, way up on the North Shore, the visit to this shopping Mecca where the peppers are never bruised and you can choose from 8 flavors of wood-smoked salmon was a treat indeed. Thus, it took me about an hour and a half (no joke) to get through all the aisles. There was a lot of internal dialogue involved, wherein I argued my need for fancy organic granola (“it has currants! Not raisins, currants! And coconut flakes!”) against the persistent reality of my checking account balance (“no you do not need Plugra butter”). Plus, I had to decide what form of protein I was least likely to get at my home grocery, either because they don’t carry it or my husband won’t eat it.
I finally settled on a balanced, colorful meal of panko-crusted flounder, creamy Spinach, and roasted butternut squash with cranberries. As the outline of the menu unfolds below, you may initially cringe at some of the flavor combos but let me tell you, these dishes really did work well together. I would make this meal again in a heartbeat – or at least in 24 hours, if you promise me a ride to Whole Foods.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries
1 large butternut squash, peeled and scraped of seeds
3/4 c. to 1 c. fresh cranberries
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut butternut squash into medium-sized chunks, approximately 1 1/2 inches square. Add them to a large mixing bowl toss with olive oil to coat. Spread squash in a baking dish large enough to fit the squash in a single layer, not overlapping but not inches apart either. Next, pour the cranberries (as much as you like, really) into the mixing bowl and coat with another tablespoon or so of olive oil. Scatter the cranberries in and around the butternut squash pieces. Sprinkle the whole pan with salt to taste, and then lightly drizzle with maple syrup, making sure that every bite of squash gets at least a couple drops. Roast for about 1 hour – test the squash by stabbing a piece with a fork. If you pull the fork back the squash should easily slip off the tines. If it wants to follow with the fork, return the squash to the oven and roast for another 10 minutes before checking again. When done, some of the cranberries will be blackened and shriveled – I think they’re yummy like this. If you prefer your cranberries all to be juicy and full, add them halfway through the cooking rather than with the squash at the beginning.
Creamy Spinach and Mushrooms (sauce adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
3/4 c. milk
1/4 onion or 1 clove crushed garlic
pinch of nutmeg
3 Tbs. butter, divided
2 Tbs flour
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. spinach or baby spinach
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. grated cheese (gruyere, Jarlsberg, parmesan or some combination)
First simmer the milk with the onion (or garlic), bay leaf and nutmeg in a small pot for about 15 minutes. Remove the solids (onion or garlic and bay leaf) and then set aside. In a separate saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, then whisk in the flour over low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk mixture and return to low heat. Simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened to a soup-like consistency (as you can see from the picture, I didn’t wait long enough…). In the meantime, melt the final tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cremini mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Add the spinach and stir gently until the spinach is cooked down. To the milk sauce, add the mustard, followed by the grated cheese, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain any excess liquid from the mushroom and spinach mixture. Add the sauce to the cooked spinach gradually until you reach the creaminess level you are comfortable with. For some, a touch of the sauce is plenty, others want the whole mess of it.
Sun-dried Tomato Panko-Crusted Flounder
3 filets of flounder (or 1 per person)
2 cups of Sun-dried Tomato Panko flakes (mine were courtesy of Whole foods, but feel free to make your own with chopped parsley, minced sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh breadcrumbs)
Here’s a simple one – pat the fish filets dry with paper towel. Beat the eggs together in a shallow bowl or platter. Dip the fish filets, one by one, in the egg to coat. Let the excess egg drip back into the bowl, then dredge the filets in the breadcrumbs, turning to coat. Over medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan. Lay the filets in the pan and cook about 3 minutes on one side, then flip to cook the other side for about a minute and a half. Check for doneness – the fish should be opaque, not translucent – then transfer to dinner plates.