Lemon Berry Cake with Mascarpone Filling


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I am really excited to share this recipe with you because it's SO GOOD.  If you make this cake and don't eat it all yourself, you will look like a rock star in the kitchen, and hey, even if you do eat it all yourself, you'll at least know you're a rock star.

This cake is perfect for this time of year- it's light, lemony, creamy, and just all around dreamy.  The filling seriously could be as light as a cloud, if they were made of cheese.  It's pretty in its simplicity.  No need to break out piping bags or even icing spatulas.

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Fire Roasted Salsa


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My go-to salsa during winter when fresh tomatoes aren't available is the Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Style Salsa.  It has an impressive flavor and is quick and easy to boot.  I've made it dozens of times, and each time there's just never enough, even though it makes a ton.

I can't remember if this salsa remix was born out of the desire to experiment or just because I didn't have plain tomatoes, but a couple weeks ago I decided to try making the salsa with fire roasted tomatoes instead of plain ones.  This discovery has to rank right up there with sliced bread.  It's more complex- slightly smoky, spicy, and the flavor just feels...deeper.  It's so good!

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Meatless Mondays: Skillet Baked Ziti


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Y'all, I have had this recipe in the stack for almost seven years.  It was way past time to try this one out, and now that I did, I know I'll be going back again and again.  This baked ziti is easy, quick, and tasty, and has a big bonus: the leftovers stay moist and well sauced, which as you may know, is a hazard with baked pasta dishes.  Both Drew and I really enjoyed this.  Drew even said it may be the best he's had, which is saying a lot, because he used to live in Upstate New York, where there's a lot of Italian influence.

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Cowboy Beans


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With the country standing at the cusp of grilling season (sounds so dramatic, doesn't it?), this dish is one you'll want to make again and again.  It's one of those recipes that you unfortunately won't have a lot of leftovers if you take it to a potluck and one that almost everyone will ask for the recipe.

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Slow Cooker Turkey Meatloaf


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A while back, Drew and I decided we should try to be champions of the slow cooker.  We're not quite there yet, but we're working on it.  This recipe for slow cooker turkey meatloaf will definitely be one we will make again.  Thanks to friends Charlotte and Amanda for giving me the recipe!

I'll be up front that at first I wasn't sure about this meatloaf.  I didn't love it at first bite.  I didn't really know what I thought, but as I ate on it a little more, I really started to like it.  It feels lighter and healthier than a lot of meat dishes.  I really enjoyed the vegetables flecked through the meatloaf.  One thing that I think is a real key in liking any healthy food makeover is not expecting it to taste like the regular version of itself.  Just be open to it tasting like its own thing.  Turkey will never be beef, spaghetti squash will never be spaghetti.  Amen.

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Homemade Rainbow Sprinkle Frosting


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This frosting.  Oh, this frosting.  If you're below the age of 40, you know it well.  It adorned at least half the cupcakes you ate as a child, and I have also been known to eat it as a dip with graham crackers.  So creamy, so tasty.  So discontinued.  A generation mourns.  There are imitators out there, but it's just not the same.

Until now, when it gets better.  I found this recipe for a homemade version on Pinterest, and it really does have the taste and close to the texture of the original.  Unfortunately, no homemade frosting will ever perfectly mimic the texture of canned frosting because it's more of a science project than food, and all those hydrogenated oils, syrups, and shelf stabilizers give it the texture we know (and many of us, like me, prefer).  This recipe, though, with its cream cheese icing base, comes pretty close to being that creamy, sort of light, spreadable frosting texture.  The flavor of this frosting is amazing, and since you make it, you of course get to play with how it tastes.

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For Your Weekend: Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken


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Last weekend I made this dish for dinner and wanted to tell you about it.  This sweet and sour chicken was so good!

Earlier on, I needed some meal inspiration.  I wanted to make something a little different, but still fairly healthy, and since Aldi had pineapples for $1 and I had a ripening one on my counter I wanted to use, I searched my Pinterest board of food to try and this one jumped out at me.  It was so pretty!  It uses pineapple!  It's baked!

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Apple and Cabbage Salad


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This one may seem a little strange at the outset, but don't write it off just yet.  I decided to try it just because the picture was so pretty.  

Popsugar posted this recipe a little over a week after New Year's, and I suspect they were trying to catch everyone's eye with the word "detox" in the article title.  Either way, this salad is a tasty and healthy addition to your lunchtime rotation.  Its fiber content makes it filling enough for a light meal, but it makes for a nice deviation to the standard side salad if it's served alongside a piece of chicken or fish.  

The whole dish feels pretty substantial, because of the heartiness of the cabbage and the crispness of the apples.  The walnuts add a really nice something extra, too.  I hope if you try it you enjoy it as much as I did!  Oh, and due to ingredient availability or my own lack of desire to buy certain items, I changed it just a little.  Click on the recipe title to link back to the original!

adapted slightly from Candice Kumai

feeds 4 meal portions or 6-8 side portions

1/2 head Savoy cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
1 apple 
1 shallot
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the cabbage, apple, and shallot to resemble extremely fine confetti; transfer to a large bowl.
Add the walnuts and toss gently to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.
Top the salad with the dressing. Using salad tongs, mix until evenly dressed.

*Note: this salad will keep in a resealable container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Weekend Baking: Chocolate Chip Coconut Scones


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If you like coconut, I hope you won't be disappointed with these scones.  Over the last couple years, I have come to love coconut and nearly any recipe that has any significant amount of coconut is one I bookmark, pin, save, whatever.  Do you ever do that, become fixated on some type of food?  A few years ago, Everyday Food had a feature with a basic scone recipe and different variations, one of which was chocolate and coconut.  I was so excited to try it, and then was a little disappointed after I tasted it.  Sorry, Martha.  The texture was good, and the taste wasn't bad, but they barely had any coconut taste at all, and I wanted tropical chocolate.

I then found another recipe on Pinterest that seemed to have all the coconutty goodness I wanted and decided to do a mashup.  Instead of the cream called for in the Everyday Food recipe, I followed the Heather's Dish suggestion of using coconut milk.  Instead of straight butter (called for in both recipes), I used a combination of butter and chilled coconut oil.  It was the right decision.   Oh, and I toasted the coconut for a more intense flavor.  

What I came up with satisfies my coconut AND chocolate cravings.  I think I have a little work to do on the texture, but overall I am pleased.  They freeze and reheat well, so you can make up a batch and save some for later.

Chocolate Chip-Coconut Scones
A Lauren original, inspired by Heather's Dish and Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tb butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3 Tb coconut oil, chilled, broken or cut into small pieces and put back in fridge to chill
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, with the chunks
3/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Cut the butter and coconut oil into the flour mixture (usig a pastry blender, two forks, or even your fingers) until you have a mixure that looks like coarse meal or sand, with a few larger (pea sized) pieces of fat still visible.  With a fork, stir in the coconut milk.  If it looks too dry, add more milk 1 Tb at a time.   Gently stir in the toasted coconut and chocolate chips.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat into a 6-inch circle. Cut into 6 wedges and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with some of the remaining coconut milk if desired. Bake until golden, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

Throwback Thursday: My Mom's Chicken Nuggets


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Few things are as appealing to a child as the chicken nugget, am I right?  Usually even the pickiest eater will go for the chicken nugget.  Even though I don't remember being a very picky eater as a child, these still ranked at the top of my food list, and they still hold a special place in my food-heart.  All partiality aside, these are really good chicken nuggets.  I give them my highest "MAKE THESE" recommendation, whether you're feeding a family or need a party finger food.  I'll give my tips for dressing these up in the recipe.

My Mom's Chicken Nuggets
feeds 4 a meal sized portion or more for appetizer portions

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400.  Mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, and herbs.  Dip chicken into the butter and roll in the crumb mixture.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, rotating the chicken about halfway through.

If you want to jazz it up a little, sub in some freshly grated Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano (or any other hard Italian cheese) or replace some of the breadcrumbs with panko breadcrumbs that have been crushed up a little.


  • Italian Seasoning also works very well in place of the two herbs and adds a little more variety.  It's all about using what you have in your pantry.

Meatless Mondays: Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Chickpeas


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Before you skip over this post or write off spaghetti squash entirely, let me assure you that this recipe was made with spaghetti squash in mind, and it is not a substitute for anything here.

It kind of irks me a little bit when people try to sub in healthier alternatives for classic foods.  Black beans will never be beef, and spaghetti squash will never be spaghetti.  I do, however, love a good black bean burger, and spaghetti squash, when cooked to display its own merits, is good.  I think the key to enjoying these foods is to use them for what they are, and not think you're going to get a perfect substitute for a food you'd rather be eating.

This recipe, found on Pinterest, is a really good vegetarian main dish.  There are a lot of flavors going on, and it doesn't use a lot of oil, so it's lower in fat and really packed with nutrition.  I used stage cooking to bring everything together fairly quickly the night I made it.  What does that mean?  Well, I cooked the chickpeas ahead of time in a slow cooker.  I roasted the squash that morning, when I was getting ready for work, shredded it, and refrigerated it for use later that night.  I toasted the pine nuts in a pan (watch them!) that morning while making breakfast.  IF I had been smart, I would have also de-stemmed and washed the kale ahead of time.  This breaks up the cooking process so that it's not T minus 2 hours until dinner.

Spaghetti Squash With Kale and Chickpeas
slightly altered from Love and Lemons Blog

feeds 2 with a little left over, in my experience

1 smaller spaghetti squash
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of chile flakes
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch of chopped kale leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced
¼ cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (or capers or olives)
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Salt & pepper
Optional: a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice your squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the middle. Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 1 hour or until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork. (If your squash is difficult to cut, roast it whole for the first 20 minutes until it softens a bit, then cut and continue).  Remove squash from the oven, let it cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands. (set aside).

In a large skillet over medium heat, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan, then add the shallot, garlic, chile flakes, salt and pepper.  Once the shallot starts to soften, add the chickpeas and cook for a few minutes until they turn lightly golden brown.  Add the kale leaves, lemon juice, and then give everything in the pan a good stir.

Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and more salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.


  • If your kale is not wilting quickly, make sure your heat is above medium (somewhere between medium and medium high works best for me), and also add in a tablespoon or so of water at a time.  The steam the water creates as it hits the pan really helps me to wilt and soften the kale.
  • We still had some oven dried tomatoes in the fridge, so we used those.  So good!  If you use fully dried tomatoes, you may want to reconstitute them in some heated water or other liquid before adding them to the pan.

Slow Cooker Lasagna


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Oh my goodness.  It's been a crazy last few weeks.  There's nothing incredibly out of the ordinary going on, but the last few weeks have felt busier, more hectic.  I realized it's been a while since my last recipe share with you.  Slow cooker meals are needed now more than ever, right?  A few years back, Drew and I decided to try to become champions of the slow cooker.  We're still (very slowly) working on it, and this recipe will definitely be in our rotation for the future.  It's delicious and just gets better as it sits for a few days.

The upside to this lasagna recipe is that the slow cooker stretches out the baking process, allowing you to run errands or whatever while it cooks.  One downside is that the directions call for you to cook it only about 4-6 hours, and it was definitely done in that time.  I brought my slow cooker to work to be able to monitor it and it made the entire building hungry that afternoon.  Another upside is that the lasagna stayed nice and moist.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
adapted from Allrecipes user KIMIRN
feeds 6-8

1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (12 ounce) package lasagna noodles
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet over medium heat cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic until brown. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, salt, and oregano and stir until well incorporated. Cook until heated through.

In a large bowl mix together the cottage cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Spoon a layer of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a double layer of the uncooked lasagna noodles. Break to fit noodles into slow cooker. Top noodles with a portion of the cheese mixture. Repeat the layering of sauce, noodles, and cheese until all the ingredients are used.
Cover, and cook on LOW setting for 4 to 6 hours.


  • One thing I do love about Allrecipes is the user reviews.  Reading those with the recipe help see potential pitfalls or slight modifications.  A common one with this recipe was complaints of the lasagna being too dry.  I added extra water to the sauce to make sure the noodles (which I did not cook ahead of time and they were not labeled as "no cook") cooked and didn't take too much moisture.  The noodles were a bit soft, but the lasagna was pretty perfect in terms of moisture.  

Pan Seared Bass with Grapefruit Salad


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A while back, we got a Groupon for the Clean Catch Fish Market in Charlotte and finally bought some fish with it.  We took home arctic char and black bass.

I'm not sure that I've ever made bass, so I didn't know how most people cooked it.  After a short recipe search, I landed on today's recipe, brought us from Anne Burrell from her Food Network Show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  It's a fairly simple recipe that really cooks the fish well (by pan searing it) and gives you a really good meal that would be a good fancy-dinner-at-home meal in something like 15 minutes.

The only thing I'd do differently is that I might try to either season the fish better next time, or add some other flavor element to the fish itself- maybe a sauce or drizzle with the grapefruit juice.  The fish was cooked well- moist, flaky and tender- but it was a little on the bland side.  On a positive note with that, if you don't like strong fish, this is an ideal choice.

Seared Black Bass with Bitter Greens, Grapefruit, and Feta Salad
from Anne Burrell

recipe is written to feed four people.

Extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce black bass fillets
Kosher salt
5 to 6 cups bitter greens, such as arugula, dandelion, escarole, radicchio, endive or frisee
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 ruby red grapefruit, juiced
1/4 cup pitted gaeta or kalamata olives, slivered
2 ruby red grapefruits, supremed
3/4 cup crumbled feta

Coat a large saute pan with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Coat the bottom of another smaller saute pan with olive oil. Sprinkle the fish with salt on both sides. When the large saute pan is screaming hot but not quite smoking, lay the fish fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Do not crowd the pan, you may have to work in batches. After you put the fish in the pan, place the other small saute pan directly on top of the fish fillets. This applies gentle pressure to the fish and forces the skin to have contact with the pan and will create crispy skin. Cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes and then remove the top pan. Shake the pan a little to unstick the fish. Use a fish spatula and flip the fish fillets and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side. Remove from the pan and serve or keep warm until the remaining fish is cooked.

In a large mixing bowl, dress the greens and red onions with olive oil and grapefruit juice and season with salt. Toss in the olive slivers and grapefruit supremes.

Divide the salad among 4 serving plates and sprinkle with feta. Lean a fish fillet on each salad. Serve immediately.

How to supreme any citrus- cut a bit off the top and bottom of the fruit, and sit it on a cutting surface.  With your knife, cut the peel off, cutting small sections straight down from the top.  Then, slice in between the membrane separating each slice of fruit to segment it.  Then you get a supremed citrus, or slices without peel/membranes.

Fun Friday: Skinny Funfetti Cupcakes...



...because when we're being good we still want something that feels like a treat.

If you're an all-natural, whole foods health nut, look away.  This little treat is going to horrify you, with its diet soda (phenylalanine!) and boxed cake mix.  These skinny cupcakes are not healthy.  If, however, you're not too worried about it, try this Weight Watchers idea.

Take a box of cake mix and a can of diet soda, and bake them into cupcakes.  That's it.  Easiest box mix ever.  They're still very moist and tasty.  What have you tried and loved?

Skinny Funfetti Cupcakes
from Weight Watchers

Makes 15-18 cupcakes

1 box Funfetti (or confetti) cake mix
1 can (12 oz) diet lemon-lime soda (Sprite, 7-up)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Line 2- 12 cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.  Pour your cake mix and soda into a medium-sized or larger bowl and stir (or mix with a hand mixer) until combined.  Pour about 1/4 cup batter into each cup, about halfway up the side.  Bake them 15-20 minutes, or until done.  A toothpick inserted should come out pretty clean.

For additional lower-calorie goodness, frost with your own frosting, reduced fat/calorie whipped topping, or whatever you choose.


  • I used homemade frosting, which I found on Pinterest.  Recipe coming soon.  It was not in any way pretending to be low fat or healthy.  
  • I mentioned these to a co-worker and she suggested mixing a box of chocolate cake mix and diet cherry soda.  YUM!

Chicken-Orzo Soup With Spinach


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As the TV weather man works us up into yet another frenzy about the cold temperatures, I offer you this soup to warm you to the core and to fill you up without any guilt.  It's a variation on the classic chicken noodle that is just amazing.  While we both enjoyed the soup, I ate on it all week and loved it. 

The soup is made with orzo, a short pasta that looks like rice.  If you don't have orzo, sub in another noodle or even rice (rice would have a longer cooking time).  The resulting soup is just so good.  I want some now.  

Chicken-Orzo Soup With Spinach
inspired by this soup

serves 6-8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 quarts chicken stock
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3/4 cup orzo pasta
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup (or more, depending on your preference) cubed or shredded cooked chicken
4 cups (1- 5 oz clamshell) loosely-packed spinach, rough chopped
salt and black pepper

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 4 minutes, until soft. Add carrots, celery and garlic and saute for an additional 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, rosemary and stir to combine. Bring soup to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Season soup with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in the chicken and pasta* and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente.  

Stir in the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes until it is bright green and wilted. Adjust seasonings as needed. Serve warm.

*see notes

  • I used 1 quart homemade turkey stock from a smoked turkey we ate at Thanksgiving dinner and 1 quart store bought chicken stock.  You can use chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock here.  
  • I halved the orzo amount from the original recipe, and still felt like there was a lot in the pot.  Feel free to adjust based on how thick you like your soup.
  • On the orzo (or any other soup with pasta)- pasta has the tendency to swell and become mushy in soups, especially when it comes to leftovers.  You can follow the directions above and your pasta will likely have a similar result.  It doesn't usually bother me in these thinner, shorter pastas.  If, however, you don't like how pastas turn out in soups, cook the pasta separately to desired doneness and then add it to individual bowls of soup.  
  • I used a rotisserie chicken for this recipe.  My local store's rotisserie chickens are smaller but less fatty, and it takes about half the chicken to get the amount I want.
  • I didn't use a slow cooker, but I imagine you could warm everything together, maybe not adding the chicken and spinach until the last 30 minutes to hour of cooking.

Scallion Crusted Arctic Char


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Happy New Year!  And now we begin the efforts to offset all that holiday indulgence.  I'm not sure if we are ingrained to start eating lighter in the new year because of resolutions or just because we feel so weighed down by the holiday eating extravaganza, but I know that come January, my brain and body are ready for a change from the season of eating.  

I wanted to share this recipe with you because it's lighter, but still a little on the indulgent side.  Arctic Char looks almost just like salmon, but this fillet was thicker and a little lighter colored than the wild caught salmon I find around here.  Its flavor is a little lighter than wild salmon's, but it's still unique.  This was so good.  

Green onions are sliced thin and mixed with just enough mayonnaise to bind them, and it's all slathered on the fillets.  The whole thing is then broiled and dinner is ready in something like 10 minutes flat.  Serve with a salad and roasted potatoes and you have a restaurant quality dinner that is completely in keeping with your resolutions...or your desire to not have another dish with 3 pounds of cheese or cream of anything soup.

Scallion Crusted Arctic Char
from Gourmet via epicurious.com
feeds 2-4, depending on appetite

4 to 6 scallions
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 (6-ounce) pieces arctic char fillet

Preheat broiler. Line rack of broiler pan with foil.

Finely chop scallions and stir together with mayonnaise. Pat fillets dry. Place fillets, skin sides down, on broiler pan and season each fillet with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spread scallion mixture evenly over tops of fillets.

Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until scallions are slightly charred and fish is just cooked through, about 8 minutes.