Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Skillet-Baked Spaghetti with Sausage and Mushrooms

I really like baked spaghetti, and I’ve found that baking it in a cast-iron skillet brings out the best in the dish—well browned, a little crispy on the edges, set in the middle just right. Yes, you can get good results from a nonstick, oven-proof pan, but I’m biased toward cast iron. It's so good for so many things.

When baking pasta, I normally use some kind of cheese as a binder to hold it and the other ingredients together in the oven, but I saw a recipe in Cooking Light magazine that recommended tossing the hot pasta with beaten eggs before stirring the meat and vegetables into it. I like that. And it worked wonderfully—the thick egg mixture clung to the hot noodles, already thickening before everything else was added. Perfect.

Here’s an easy, no-fuss meal that’s full of warm, down-home, spaghetti-dinner flavor—nobody can’t love it.

Serves 4

  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 oz thin spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 lb hot Italian sausage links, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded Italian cheese blend, divided
Prepared Ingredients
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Crack the eggs into a large bowl and lightly beat.
  3. Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water until almost al dente, 5 minutes. Drain and place in the bowl with the eggs, tossing to coat.
Egg and Pasta Mixture
  1. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the sausage and onion and cook until browned, stirring to crumble, 6 minutes. 
  2. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cook until some of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally, 11-12 minutes. 
  3. Add the sausage mixture to the pasta and stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Stir well to combine. Transfer the mixture back to the skillet and press lightly to even the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
Sausage and Onion Beginning to Cook 
Tomato Mixture Added 
Cooked Sausage-Tomato Mixture
Pasta Mixture 
Smooth to Even Thickness
Ready to Bake
  1. Place the skillet in the oven and bake minutes 20 minutes. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.
Baked Spaghetti
 Cut into 4 wedges and serve. 

Skillet-Baked Spaghetti with Sausage and Mushrooms

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fig-and-Wine Sauce

Fresh figs are supple, savory, and great for making sauces. Add dry red wine and sweeten it up with a little brown sugar and cinnamon, and turn a simple pan-roasted pork tenderloin into an extra-special, flavor-loaded dinner. 'Nuff said.

Serves 4

  • 4 large, soft figs (about 6 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-1/4-lb pork tenderloin
Fresh Figs
  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Heat a large, cast-iron (or other ovenproof) skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil, swirling to coat. Season the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper and sear, turning until browned on all sides, 8-9 minutes total.
  3. Place the skillet in the oven and roast until just cooked through but still pink in the middle, 16-18 minutes, depending on size.
Tenderloin Beginning to Cook
After Turning
  1. Meanwhile, place the figs, wine, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small food processor. Puree until creamy (about the consistency of apple sauce). Transfer the mixture to a small skillet or saucepan and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Stir in the water and bring to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the wine flavor mellows and the sauce is slightly reduced, 20 minutes. Cover and keep warm.
Pureed Ingredients
Sauce Beginning to Cook
Cooked Sauce
  1. Remove the pork from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
Rested and Sliced
Serve the pork with the fig-wine sauce spooned on top.

Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fig-and-Wine Sauce

Monday, October 3, 2016

Chicken, Farro, and Spinach Salad

Farro is a variety of wheat cultivated in Italy and across the Mediterranean. Its protein and fiber content makes it especially nutritious, and the nutty flavor and chewy texture make it perfect for hearty soups and salads.

Like bulgur and other grains, farro is sold whole-grain, semi-pearled, or pearled, which refers to the presence or absence of the natural germ and bran. Whole-grain includes both the germ and bran, semi-pearled contains a partial amount, and pearled means that the germ and bran were removed during hulling. While the whole-grain variety is the highest in nutritional value, all types are good for you—and the pearled and semi-pearled cook more quickly.
Pearled Farro
There are many methods of cooking farro, but the one I like best is simply to treat it like pasta. Stir it into a pot of boiling, salted water and cook until al dente—25 to 30 minutes for pearled or semi-pearled. Give it a taste after 25 minutes to check the texture. Slightly chewy is good.

This easy, one-dish dinner is as flavorful as it is nutritious—all good, no guilt.

Tip: Mix warm chicken breast into the salad just before serving to slightly wilt the spinach leaves. 

Serves 4

  • sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pearled or semi-pearled farro
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 tsp honey
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 lb warm, cooked chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

Salad Ingredients
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Stir in the farro and cook until al dente, 25-30 minutes. Drain and spread the cooked farro on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to cool.

Drained, Cooked Farro
Cooled, Dried Farro
  1. Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice, oil, and honey in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place the cooled faro in a large bowl. Add the chicken breast, spinach, bell pepper, onion, and mint. Season with salt and pepper. Add the juice mixture, stirring gently to combine.

Dressing for the Salad
Mixed Ingredients
Divide the salad among 4 bowls and serve with lemon wedges, passing olive oil at the table for drizzling. 

Chicken, Farro, and Spinach Salad

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Grilled Opah (Moonfish) with Apricot-Lemon Glaze

Opah—also called moonfish because of its disc-like shape—is a large, colorful, deep-water fish common in the waters surrounding Hawaii and other tropical regions. Its colorful skin features hues of bluish silver, orange, and red, while the flesh ranges from areas of light pink to reddish-orange—but it all tends to turn white when cooked. Like tuna or swordfish, opah is typically cut into thick, steak-like filets, and its firmness makes it a great fish for grilling.
From National Geographic.com. Photo by Ralph Pace
The opah’s mild, sweet flavor goes well with a complementary sweet glaze or sauce. Here, I made a simple glaze with apricot preserves and a splash of fresh lemon juice for a tangy contrast. If you can’t find opah in your local fish market, the glaze will work well with tuna, swordfish, or even thick-cut salmon steaks.

Note: I made a hot lump-charcoal fire and let the coals cool to medium to medium-low so I could grill the fish directly over them. If you don’t have time to wait for the coals to cool a bit, simply grill the fish close to the fire but not directly above the flames. This prevents the tender flesh from burning quickly, while still resulting in a nice char and light, smoky flavor.

Serves 2

  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 12-oz piece of opah, about 1-1/2 inches thick, halved
  • olive oil, for rubbing
Opah Steak
  1. Light a grill for medium heat with space for off-heat grilling, if needed.
  2. Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat and melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes.
  3. Add the apricot preserves and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the glaze thickens, 4 minutes. 
  4. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand while the fish grills.
Garlic in Butter
Glaze Beginning to Cook
Apricot-Lemon Glaze
  1. Rub the opah pieces with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Rub the grill grate with oil. 
  2. Grill the fish off heat until lightly charred on the outside and but still opaque in the middle, 3-4 minutes per side, depending on thickness. (Tip: If your fish pieces are very thick, you can turn them to grill on all 4 sides for about 2 minutes each, instead of just grilling on the top and bottom sides.)
Fish Beginning to Cook
Grilled Opah
Transfer to plates, brush with glaze, and serve right away.

Grilled Opah (Moonfish) with Apricot-Lemon Glaze