Every week, Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser pairs each main dish with a side to give you a complete, satisfying dinner without the guesswork. Look for the game plan section to learn tips on how to streamline your kitchen work so dinner comes together quicker.
Dinner 1: Roasted Game Hens and Steamed Kale
Game Plan: Prep the ingredients for both dishes. Place the hens in the oven. Right before broiling the hens (step 6), start steaming the kale. Let the hens rest while the kale finishes. Note: The hens can be cooked without air-drying, but if you have the time, we recommend this step.
To achieve crisp skin on our Roasted Cornish Game Hens, we rub the birds with baking powder and salt, air-dry them, and poke holes in the skin to allow fat to drain away. We then roast them on a hot baking sheet to jump-start the cooking before broiling them for great browning. Our Pan-Steamed Kale with Raisins and Almonds starts by cooking the greens in a small amount of chicken broth. Once the kale is just tender, we remove the lid and allow excess liquid to evaporate, then briefly sauté the greens with a few flavorings that accent but don't overpower its earthiness.
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Dinner 2: Sesame-Crusted Salmon and Quinoa Pilaf
Game Plan: Start by prepping and cooking the quinoa. Once the quinoa is simmering, prep and cook the salmon. If the quinoa pilaf is done before the salmon, set it aside and stir in the scallions, vinegar, and mirin just before serving.
For Sesame-Crusted Salmon with Lemon and Ginger, we brine the fillets to ensure that each piece is well seasoned and remains moist after cooking. We also brine and toast the sesame to bring out their flavor. Finally, we use tahini paste combined with citrus juice to glue the sesame seeds to the fillets. To develop nuttiness in our Quinoa Pilaf with Shiitakes, Edamame, and Ginger, we toast the grains in a dry skillet before adding liquid. We then season the pilaf with boldly flavored ingredients such as scallions, mirin, and ginger.
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Dinner 3: Italian Sausage with Grapes and Creamy Polenta
Game Plan: Start preparing the polenta. Once the cornmeal has been added to the water and the heat reduced, start the sausage. By the time the polenta is fully cooked, the sausages will be ready to serve. (If the sausages are done early, cover the skillet and rewarm them before serving.)
Italian Sausage with Grapes and Balsamic Vinegar is a great demonstration of the affinity that pork and fruit have for each other. Taking inspiration from a potsticker cooking method, we use a combination of sautéing and steaming to produce sausages that are nicely browned while still moist and juicy. For the sauce, we caramelize seedless red grapes and thinly sliced onion to create a sweet but complex base. White wine and balsamic vinegar lend complementary acidity. For our Creamy Parmesan Polenta, we use coarse-ground, degerminated cornmeal, which provides a soft but hearty texture and nutty flavor. A pinch of baking soda cuts the cooking time in half and eliminates the need for stirring.