Getting comfortable in the kitchen, and in Toledo

  • Pomegranate-glazed-chicken-thighs-with-roasted-red-grapes

    Pomegranate-glazed chicken thighs with roasted red grapes.

  • Pomegranate-glazed chicken thighs with roasted red grapes.
    Pomegranate-glazed chicken thighs with roasted red grapes.

    My first day of work at The Blade was thwarted by a Level 3 snow emergency; we got 8 inches that day, and I didn’t yet have an I.D. badge which would prove that I am “essential personnel” and that I was entitled to be on the roads to accomplish my Earth-shatteringly important mission of sharing recipes and other culinary tidbits with all of you.

    On those occasions when I’ve been permitted to go out and about, though — those days when we haven’t watched the snow fall yet again or shivered when the temperature was below zero — I’ve met some wonderful people.

    Everyone here in the area has been so friendly, so welcoming. I grew up in New York City, where folks aren’t rude but they are, admittedly, brusque; they’re busy, they’re rushed, they’re fighting for space in crowds. Then I spent 30 years in Ann Arbor, where people are nice but they tend to keep a bit of distance; the population can be somewhat transient, and many people don’t even seem to know their neighbors well. It’s heartwarming to be here and to chat with new friends I’m meeting nearly everywhere I go.

    Of course, when people ask, “What brought you to Toledo?” and I say, “I’m the new food editor for The Blade,” their faces light up. Everyone loves to talk about food. And it is clearly important here, as it should be. Food isn’t merely about sustenance, about fuel, about nutrition; it’s about culture, history, sociability. I maintain that people bond over food, even in cyberspace and in print.

    And when I talk with my new friends, almost universally I’m told that Toledo likes comfort food — something warm to provide solace in the cold, something familiar rather than challenging. I happen to be a fan of comfort food myself. (My boyfriend gave me a cookbook devoted to bacon for my last birthday.) This type of cooking is often laden with fat, with sugar, with stuff that isn’t good for you — of course, this is why it tastes so good. But it doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Comfort food can still be good for your soul while simultaneously not being horribly bad for the rest of you.

    White wine-poached salmon with lemon dill mayonnaise and cabbage ā€˜nā€™ red onion slaw.
    White wine-poached salmon with lemon dill mayonnaise and cabbage ā€˜nā€™ red onion slaw.

    As you get to know me, you’ll find that I am not a “gadget girl”: I don’t own a food processor or a KitchenAid mixer. I will spare you my rant about bread machines (suffice it to say that I’m not a fan). I like to use my hands, my spoons, my knives, and to actually prepare food myself rather than having a machine do it for me. Sure, you can save time with some of those very cool toys; but since I like to cook and to bake, I’m looking more for the experience than for efficiency.

    Today, I want to offer comfort food recipes that are easy to make, delicious to eat, and — given that we may still see more of that dreaded white stuff falling from the sky — possibly ready to prepare even if you find yourselves bundled up inside because of snow or cold. I want cooking to be accessible to people, without the exorbitant costs of fancy equipment or super-specialized ingredients. I want you to enjoy your meals, and not be so stressed from the preparation process that you don’t relax and relish the food and — most important — your dining companions.

    So, here are recipes that you could prepare with ingredients you might already have at home or, at least, ones that are easy to find; and you only need a good knife, a skillet, a couple of bowls, and a baking dish for making them. Wine infused the poached salmon with more flavor than mere water would. Lemon and dill both add color and “oomph” to the mayonnaise to make a lovely accompaniment to the fish, and it would also go well with chicken. The slaw is tangy and crisp — a nice contrast in texture to the entree — and it would also be great with barbecue or almost any other meat preparation. The chicken is another easy dish, and the pomegranate molasses offers a sweet-tartness that is irresistible. (This is available in Middle Eastern markets and specialty stores. You’ll find you use it in place of honey or traditional molasses, so it’s definitely an ingredient you’ll get a lot of use from.) And the roasted grapes, while unexpected, are really exceptional: Cooking them briefly with just a pinch of salt brings out more nuance in their flavor than we’re accustomed to when eating them out-of-hand.

    Try something simple but delicious for dinner, and enjoy a stress-free meal with loved ones.

    Contact Mary Bilyeu at or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



    • 2½ cups dry white wine
    • 1+ cups water
    • juice of half lemon
    • generous pinch of kosher salt
    • 4¼ pound salmon filets
    • Mayonnaise:
    • ¼ cup reduced fat mayonnaise
    • ¼ teaspoon dried dill
    • pinch of kosher salt
    • finely grated zest of half lemon

    White Wine-Poached Salmon with Lemon Dill Mayonnaise Salmon:

    Combine the wine, water, lemon juice, and salt in a 10” skillet. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Place the fish into the skillet (make sure fish is just covered by liquid, adding water if necessary) and cover; cook for 10 minutes until fish is firm.

    Meanwhile, stir together the mayonnaise ingredients and let rest while the fish cooks.

    To serve, place the salmon on a serving platter and top each portion with a dollop of mayonnaise.

    Makes 4 servings.




    Cabbage ‘n’ Red Onion Slaw

    • 1 small green cabbage (1.5 pounds)
    • 1 small red onion
    • ¼ cup light olive oil
    • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
    • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    • generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon sugar

    Remove outer leaves from the cabbage, cut off the stem end, and quarter the cabbage. Core each portion, then slice thin horizontally. Place cabbage in a large mixing bowl.

    Remove skin from the onion and cut off stem and root ends. Halve the onion and slice thinly; add onion to cabbage.

    In a measuring cup, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over the cabbage and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve chilled.

    Makes 8 servings.



    Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Thighs 

    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1¼ pounds chicken thighs (4 pieces)
    • kosher salt, to taste
    • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

    Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a 9” pie plate with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

    Place the chicken skin-side down in the pie plate; bake for 20 minutes. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, pomegranate molasses, and vinegar. Turn the chicken skin-side up, spoon the glaze over the chicken, and bake 10 more minutes until juices run clear when a knife is inserted into the chicken. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

    Makes 2-4 servings.




    Roasted Red Grapes 

    • 1 pound red grapes, stems removed
    • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

    Preheat oven to 400F. Combine grapes, oil, and salt in a glass pie pan. Roast grapes for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking, until they are starting to soften and to release their juices.

    Makes 4 servings.