Category Archives: Herbs

Pot Roast

When spring-like weather hits in the end of March in Chicago, everyone talks about it with a kind of blissful hopefulness that the winter is finally over.  Wrong.  It always ends up getting cold again and there always seems to be at least a fleeting possibility of snow well into the first few weeks of April.  A warm weather tease is typical for this part of the country, but infuriating, nonetheless.  In an effort to ease the misery of cold, cold winds and grey skies that will inevitably fall up on us again (on a weekend, no doubt), I offer up a suggestion:  Pot Roast.
With any luck there will not be many more opportunities to battle the weather with comfort food, so I highly suggest digging into this one at some point soon.  Like any braised meat, it is a product of time, patience, and a little technique.  Keep in mind the following for this:  sear, saute, season, simmer, (sup).  The fifth “s” is a given, but I believe in the powers of odd numbers.  Because this is mostly a bringing together of ingredients, I’ll just relay what I do in prose, as opposed to a recipe form.

Poachie Paks

Poor Christine, who loves to cook, is currently without an oven as she and Chuck renovate Edgewood Manor.  In the face of this kitchen deficiency, she’s been forced to creatively prepare delicious and healthful meals using her stovetop and a (rather substantial) toaster oven.  Because, like me, she loves to eat almost as much as she loves to cook, she’s come up with some real winning dishes, and some that are extremely appropriate for weeknight (read: easy) preparation.  She asked me to showcase one of her favorite new things, which is more of a method of cooking than anything:  Poachie Paks.

In French cooking, they call this method en papillote, which I think means, “in paper,” or “in envelope.”  Basically, you put all of the food you will eat in a meal onto a piece of parchment paper or aluminium foil, fold it closed, and seal it tightly.  If you are careful to make sure everything is the right size to cook at the same time, this method of cooking will serve you very well.  The prep work is the key; cook time can be very quick, depending on your ingredients.  

You can cook just about anything in a poachie pak, but I think fish, seafood, and vegetables are particularly good choices, because they cook so fast.  Martha Stewart has whole sections of her website devoted to cooking en papillote, so if you want some additional ideas, I would have a look there.  For me, I want everything to come out tasting fresh, but somehow connected as a composed dish; herbs and seasonings lend a strong hand in bringing everything together.  For the version I present here, dill and garlic both play a role in perfuming all of the ingredients.  It is probably just the basic physics of flavor, steam, and aroma, but I think there is a little magic that happens inside these little parcels when you put them in the oven.  Have a look at the before and after:

Poachie Pak Before

Poachie Pak Before

Poachie Pak After

Poachie Pak After

I don’t really know if I can write a full recipe for this, but here is how I put these together (for two poachie paks):  fold two large squares of parchment paper in half diagonally and place 2 to 3 layers of yukon gold potato slices (one medium potato sliced very thinly with a mandoline) on one side of each fold.  Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.  Then, layers go down like this, for each pak:  handful of spinach, three slices of lemon, few sprigs of dill, one salmon portion, then a mixture of chopped garlic and parsley, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon on top of the fish; scatter bay scallops around.  Seal poachie pak by folding over the free section and crimping the edges together.  Sometimes, this is enough to seal it, but I needed to use a stapler this time – maybe had a few too many ingredients?  Regardless, they were delicious.  If you have ideas of food combinations for future poachie paks, please share!

Brief Note on Herbs


Aaron’s mom is so good about sending little notes in the mail, and with the age of e-mail not slowing anytime soon, we always appreciate getting cards and notes from her.  On occasion, however, she’ll log on to the computer and shoot a note off to us:  “Hi and Happy Spring(?),  I want to grow some herbs this year and need to know what to grow besides basil and oregano.  You always have such tasty food and I want to learn how to do that.”  Short, sweet, and to the point.  My response was as such:

As far as herbs are concerned, we’ve grown quite a few over the years, with some more successful than others.  I have a little time, so I will give you a run-down of our experiences for each one. Continue reading

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