No Pots To Clean Gourmet Dinner

At our annual Cape Cod family vacation, I am responsible for serving the annual Fish Dinner for 10-15 people (there is also the annual Steak Dinner and the annual Lobster & Ribs Dinner, hosted by my brothers-in-law along with, The-Night-Everyone-Arrives-Baked-Ziti-Dinner my now 90-year-old mother-in-law whips up.)

Let’s be clear. Cooking for a very large group in an ill-equipped ‘cottage’ kitchen and serving it as a sit-down dinner in a too-small dining room is NO VACATION. It’s actually a potential nightmare. But it’s what we do. Every year. And once dinner’s on the table, it’s a blast… Plus, my wine-collector brother-in-law brings a LOT of wine so that’s, um, great. (I make sure to finish with all knife skills before imbibing – that’s another story that ends at the hospital).

Anyway, we’ve been doing this for years, but last Thursday I faced a fish dinner crisis: the only feasible date was our last night at the Cape – and we had to pack up our rental house and be on the road by 7:30 the next morning. I tried for a fish dinner hiatus. No dice (a huge compliment yet also frustrating). So I agreed to with one condition: I would cook but I would NOT host 12 people in the rental house that we were in the midst of packing up.

Once that was swiftly agreed upon, I had to devise a dinner plan. Usually my goal is a new variation on fish everyone will like. This year, my goal was: how to cook a full dinner for 12 with very little clean up. Like, none. Else we’d never finish packing and get out on time.

The answer: I devised a menu that required NO pots. Thus no clean up, and no ferrying pots, pans and serving utensils to and fro.

Amazingly, it was a huge success – both the cooking and the quick clean-up… but also, the dinner itself. There were actual accolades! My mother-in-law declared it, “your best fish dinner ever,” and someone dubbed it, “totally gourmet.” There were no leftovers and literally, we had NOTHING to clean up – all we had to do was load the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher. Oh, and the very many wine glasses.

The trick: a dinner plan that relied on heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill, sequential cook times, and ‘sauces’ prepared in advance.

Here’s what I prepared:

  • 2.5 pounds of Arctic Char and 1.5 pounds of Haddock that I prepped with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, slivered onions and halved cherry tomatoes: grilled in foil and served with two homemade sauces (really, dressings): Green Goddess and Mustard Vinaigrette.  I thought folks would enjoy trying two very different types of fish, which they did. And surprisingly, my favorite, Arctic Char, was the big winner! (See Lo-Co Recipe page for other fish/Arctic Char recipes!)
  • The fantastic “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious.
  • Asparagus we grilled in the afternoon and served at room temperature.

IMG_2695Cooking fish in foil on a grill is dead-easy. All you do is place a fish fillet in foil (skin-side down, if it has skin), slick it both sides with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs you like (I used chives, thyme and rosemary). Atop that, squeeze some lemons and place some very thinly sliced lemon along with very thinly sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes. The only truly ‘obligatory’ ingredient is olive oil and some lemon – but it makes a nice presentation with all these items! Then wrap it TIGHTLY in foil (I double wrapped it) and grill over medium-high or high heat for 10 minutes — longer if it’s a thick fillet. We needed 15-20 minutes for the 3 wrapped fillets. Take them off the grill and transfer to a serving platter – I removed the onion and lemon slices, but placed the tomatoes back on top for a pretty presentation. I like my fish plain but feared others would not, so I served the fish with choice of a Mustard Vinaigrette (David Tanis’ recipe on my Lo-Co Recipe page) and a Green Goddess dressing/dip mix from Penzey’s Spices that I had whipped up in minutes that morning.

The other element we needed to grill at my brother-in-law’s rental home was the phenomenal “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious. Read the recipe and reviews online, or recipe PDF is here and also on my Lo-Co Recipes page. These, my husband and I prepped in the afternoon, then brought over 11 packages all ready to go on the grill!  While they’re meant to be served individually I just opened all 11 packages into a large serving bowl – either way is great.  A few notes from my read of the reviews and my experience making this fabulous and fabulously easy recipe:

  • I used baby red potatoes that I washed and left skins on – and cut into small pieces (like eighths!) so they’d cook quickly enough.
  • Instead of white, I used red onions – again cut into very thin slices – about same size as potatoes.
  • Use heavy duty foil – there’s a size that’s the right width the recipe calls for. 
  • Move the packets every 5-7 minutes or so – maybe 3 times for the 30 minutes – but don’t flip them – goal is to move so that no one spot gets too hot and burns.
  • It’s very easy BUT takes time to cut the potatoes and onions – leave plenty of time for all the slicing!
  • Even if you hate mustard, you won’t taste it here… and if you LOVE mustard, you need to increase the amount used.

The whole dinner took 1 hour to cook at my brother-in-law’s rental home (though a few hours to prep — and we did grill asparagus (see below for how) at home first and served it room temperature.) 

Once we landed at my brother-in-law’s I prepped the fish while my husband grilled the potato packets. In the end, it looked like this:




IMG_2697Two notes on the finished dishes:

  • The fish fell apart, which doesn’t happen when you bake or cook fish directly on the grill. But it’s juicy and tender, and if you have enough wine, no one will notice.
  • The potato & onion dish looked much more appealing than this photo; I’d had a few glasses of wine by then…

Hope you try!  So easy and healthy and delicious – and no pots to wash!

To grill asparagus: soak for 10 minutes and snap off the tough bottoms, loosely dry, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and put right onto a medium-high grill for about 10-15 minutes, rolling them to grill evenly.


Mmm Mmm Mustard Roasted Fish

OK, so I’ll admit that adding a cream sauce to fish is not the most lo-co of plans.  But there I was, under pressure.  It’s tradition that I make a fish dish at our annual family reunion at Cape Cod (look how lo-co I’ve been: the other big family dinners are steak and lobster/ribs!) It’s a diverse crowd, and I needed a new fish dish that all would enjoy.

Photo: Quentin Bacon

What inspired me was the not-great weather (clearly it wasn’t cooking lo-co as I went with a cream sauce).  As it was unusually cool, I decided to bake instead of grill the fish. So I turned to the ever-trustworthy Barefoot Contessa and chose a dinner I love but make only infrequently. I was thrilled that everyone at the table loved it too. In fact, Ina Garten’s Mustard-Roasted Fish recipe was so delicious they all asked for the recipe.

And that’s no small feat – these are my relatives.  Well, my husband’s, actually.  So, um, not an easy crowd.  Love them to pieces, but let’s just say there are a lot of opinions. Freely offered. Often. With no punches pulled. (Hence my need for an ample supply of Grey Goose, Corona and red wine at the Cape. And no bottles make it home. Ever.)

As it’s never once happened to me that every single person at a dinner party not only loves a dish, but actually asks for the recipe, I thought I should share it here. (Plus, posting it here means my husband’s family actually has to read my blog to get the recipe. LOL. Though I’m not all bad – I did mail a hard copy to my 85 year old mother-in-law so she doesn’t have to look it up online. As if that were possible. Sorry, Lynn, but I know you are not reading this so all is safe! Bros-in-law: if you rat me out, I will come after you.)

So then I got to thinking about whether this dish is even appropriate for Goin Lo-Co. What with the, um, you know, um, cream sauce?

So I scanned the recipe for nutritional info (yes, I realize, as someone trying to cook lo-co I should have looked before I made this dish. So shoot me).  It wasn’t there.

Digging around online, I was surprised to find that none of the online listings for this recipe list its nutritional info. Neither the Food Network version of this recipe nor the Barefoot Contessa site (photo link) listed nutritional info for this recipe.  Weird.

I finally found it on a Washington Post’s Recipe Finder.  Click here to view this version of the recipe, complete with nutritional info.

If you want all the nutritional details, see the end of this post (recipe PDF there, too). Overall, this dish is not so bad when you compare with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (more info here):

  • Total Fat:  Reco is 44-78 grams of total fat per day, this fish dish has 12.  Woot.
  • Saturated Fat:  Reco is 16-22 grams/day (and for lo-co, clearly it’s 16).  This dish has 7. Not bad at all.
  • Cholesterol:  Reco is max of 300 mg/day – but 200 to lower heart disease risk. With 105mg, this dish is at about half of daily reco’d cholesterol.  Not great, but not awful.

So, this dish is not so bad – even though it has a cream sauce.  (And especially if you serve it with quinoa and grilled asparagus, like I did.)   I mean, if you don’t have fast food or any other bad, high fat/high cholesterol food that day, you can serve this recipe and feel like you served something delicious and relatively heart-healthy.

If you eat a burger for lunch (upcoming post soon), well, then, what can I say?  Try it another day, ok?

I’ve made this dish several times, with the following modifications:

  • I use a little less salt & pepper than what’s called for in the recipe.
  • Often I make it with cod rather than snapper – less fishy taste will appeal to more folks (and hey, it’s cheaper too).
  • You need both kinds of mustard
  • If you’ve never heard of creme fraiche, it’s found near cheese/sour cream in my area at both Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop – ask if you don’t see it.

If you would like to download a PDF with my recipe notes, click here: Mustard-Roasted Fish a la Karen.

Hope you enjoy… Post a comment if  you try the dish!

Nutritional Details: This recipe, according to the Washington Post, has: 311 calories, 12g fat, 7g saturated fat, 105mg cholesterol, 956mg sodium, 6g carbohydrates, 0g dietary fiber, n/a sugar, 38g protein.