Most nights, our dinners are simple: roasted vegetables, salad, whatever leftovers we have from yesterday’s lunch or another day’s project in the fridge. Sometimes it’s previously prepared food we’ve stuffed in the freezer. Other times it’s ice cream. We tend to go for easy and simple and mindless, despite what the stereotype of keeping a food blog might be. But every so often, one of us gets freshly inspired, like I did last week with this fish recipe, and making dinner becomes less about efficiency and more about fun. These are the times when I love the kitchen, when it feels like a way to creatively vent out all the tension of those crazy mental Ferris wheels and tangibly let my hands show my brain, again, that some forms of disorder resolve, making beauty in the end.
Thinking about this just now, I Googled “why creative outlet,” because that’s what I’m describing here, I guess, what it means to have a creative outlet, be it cooking or writing or pottery, and I fell deep into a rabbit trail of articles about how practicing creativity in any of its forms can be valuable for people fighting everything from depression to anxiety to boredom to stress. Making things you enjoy is something that can “help people perform better at work,” says a recent study featured at NPR. Gardening helped one woman featured in a Writer’s Digest Magazine article improve the way she wrote. Lorraine Thompson at Copywriters’ Kitchen cites regular cooking as a weapon against stress and as a way to help your mind to slow down. “Food preparation is a process,” she says. “It takes time. It requires participation … By handling food every day, you’re given the opportunity to be mindful.”
They’re all sort of saying the same thing I’m saying, the same thing I said to Tim last week on a day that I started behind on work hours and finished strolling fields and hills and horse stables at a previously undiscovered park near our house. “You never know what a day will bring!” I told him breathlessly, right after I snapped a photo of a horse named Boo. It could be working on a car or studying astronomy or tilling the earth that shows it to you, but these gifts of work, especially creative work, can be the very tools to give us hope.
Pecorino-Encrusted Cod in Brown Butter Dill Sauce & Carrot Potato Mash
Fish recipe lightly adapted from The Kitchn, and it's a winner. Super simple and fast (as all great fish recipes tend to be) and so buttery and almost decadent beneath the sauce. Also worth raving about is the creamy mash, sweetened and orange-tinted by the carrots but still savory with the tangy kefir and wonderful dill.
Turn the broiler on in your oven (ours has two options: high and low; we used low). In a large cast-iron skillet, warm the ghee and/or coconut oil until hot. Meanwhile, salt and pepper the top of the cod filets generously.
Once oil is hot, lay filets, seasoned side down, right in the pan. Cook three minutes, and while it's cooking, mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl. Then use a spatula (ideally a fish spatula, as The Kitchn recommends; what’s a fish spatula? basically this) to flip the filets over. Spread the topping over the filets, pressing it gently with a utensil into the fish. With oven-mitted hands, move the skillet to the oven and broil the fish for 2 to 3 more minutes, until crisp and golden on top. If you're going to err, err on the side of less doneness; taste it and stick it back in if needed; if you overcook the fish just by a minute, it could be a little dry.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, letting it turn from solid to liquid to golden to brown, with a wonderful, nutty smell. Add chopped dill.
Serve filets hot, atop mounds of carrot potato mash (recipe below). Drizzle with brown butter sauce.
For the carrot potato mash (which may be made ahead of time and rewarmed):
Place carrots and potatoes in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover them. Set over medium heat and bring to boil; reduce to simmer; cook until everything is soft through, about 45 minutes. Strain the vegetables, reserving about ¾ cup of the water. Transfer them to a Vitamix or other blender, adding the reserved liquid, and blend until chunky and well mixed, using the tamper if necessary. Scoop this mixture back into the pot, and stir in kefir, butter, grated garlic, and chopped dill. Mash until it’s the texture you like (we like it to stay a little on the chunky side). Salt and pepper generously, to taste.