Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sea Scallops with Mint & Pea Puree – Fit for a Queen

There’s something about seared sea scallops that’s so special and fancy. Perhaps because to some of us they are a special treat. Served over this bright green mint and pea puree, they look very regal and fit for a Queen.

Scallops aren’t particularly difficult to prepare. You just need to be very careful not to overcook them, because if you do, they turn out tough and chewy and very unappetizing.

I think the most difficult thing about scallops is finding the correct ones. Dry pack scallops are the very best money can buy and I encourage you to seek them out. In some markets they are also called “diver scallops.” If at all possible you want to avoid scallops that have been soaked in brine. Why? Because they are very difficult to near impossible to brown properly and, to me, they leave a bit of a tangy aftertaste in your mouth. Scallops should smell and taste like the sea – fresh.

This is a great dish for guests because the mint and pea puree can be made the day before and stored, covered, in the refrigerator and reheated at the last minute while you are searing the scallops. The original recipe calls for serving 4 scallops per guest, but if you can find the big diver sea scallops as I’ve shown here, I think 3 per guests is ample. If you use this an appetizer, perhaps even 2 large scallops would be fine. Accompany with a nice chilled glass of white wine or a flute of champagne and raise a glass to the Queen.

Seared Sea Scallops with Mint & Pea Puree
Adapted slightly from The Lazy Gourmet – Magnificent Meals Made Easy by Robin Donovan & Juliana Gallin – serves 4 to 5

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, peeled & minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ cup fish, chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups (about 10 ounces) frozen green peas
¼ cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, plus more, julienned for garnish
½ cup sour cream (quality low fat sour cream works great)
¼ to ½ teaspoon wasabi paste
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning scallops
¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of about 1 large lemon)
16 large dry packed sea scallops (about 1 ½ pounds), rinsed & patted dry

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until the shallot is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes, taking care not to burn either of them. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add peas and return to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in mint, sour cream, wasabi paste, sugar, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Using an immersion blender (or in batches in a countertop blender or food processor), puree the sauce until smooth. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Set aside while you sear the scallops. At this point if you wish, the puree can be made a couple of days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan before serving.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, place the scallops in the pan, making sure they are not touching each other. You may have to sear the scallops in batches. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, without moving them around, until the bottoms form a crisp, caramel-colored crust. Turn and cook the other side the same way. (Cook’s note: Do not turn the scallops until they release from the pan or they will leave their nice sear behind.) Scallops are done when they feel springy, but not overly firm to the touch. Do not overcook or they will be dry and tough.

Reheat the pea puree in a saucepan over medium-low heat and add a touch more broth or water if it is too thick. Spoon onto four serving plates and arrange the scallops on top. Sprinkle with a little julienned mint or slivered green onion tops.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hostess Gifts and a Guest Post

My friend Tish from A Femme d’un Certain Age has asked me to do a guest post about hostess gifts and of course I’ve gladly accepted. Homemade breakfast granola is just a sneak preview of one of the ideas I’ve come up with.

If you love the French life and their joie d’vie as much as I do and want to dress and act more like those chic French ladies, then I’m certain you're already familiar with Tish’s fabulously fashionable blog. But just in case, allow me to introduce her. You can come back later and tell me merci beaucoup.

All of her career, on both sides of the Atlantic, Tish Jett has been a life and style writer. She moved to France for a job and stayed for love. Pretty romantic, oui? I for one am so glad she did. Her blog, A Femme d’un Certain Age, has let me in on all of those little secrets of the French woman I’ve always wanted to know so I can be stylish and chic. Dedicated to women 40ish to whatever, every detail is chosen for us to wear, to amuse, to use……and always with a French twist. So what if the last time we saw 40 was on a speedometer? With Tish you will embark on a life-enhancing cultural exchange with the masters of looking fabulous at every age: Les Femmes Francaises. And just in case you happen to be planning a trip to Paris, she just featured fabulous suggestions on April in Paris and the perfect things to wear.

So grab a spicy cheese straw to nibble on and join me at A Femme d’unCertain Age for some ideas for hostess gifts so you don’t go to a dinner party empty-handed. See you there - à bientôt.

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This will be linked to Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Photography by Meakin Hoffer

Friday, March 16, 2012

Monkfish à l'Américaine – Essential Pepin

Jacques Pepin is probably the best known French chef in America. Through his popular cooking programs on public television and his many cookbooks, he’s been teaching us French cooking for, believe it or not, six decades. His latest cookbook, Essential Pepin, contains seven hundred of his favorite recipes from his career in cooking.

Often when someone writes a big “all my favorite recipes” kind of book, it includes a lot of recipes from previous books. I have a lot of Jacques Pepin’s cookbooks and, as much as I love Jacques, I wasn’t certain I really wanted another one. However, flipping through Essential Pepin was enough to convince me that this one is by far his best and contains a lot of new recipes plus some old favorites updated.

When I get a new cookbook, I grab a pen and a piece of paper and make notes on recipes to try. So far I’ve come up with at least thirty five. Jacques has a knack for finding the shortest route to flavor without complicated techniques. This recipe for Monkfish à l'Américaine stew is a perfect example. Monkfish can be tough if not cooked properly, but here Jacques gently simmers it in a flavorful tomato based broth scented with fennel seeds and cognac and finishes it with French tarragon. French cooking has never been easier or tasted so good.

Is Essential Pepin essential?  Absolutely! 

Monkfish à l'Américaine
Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin – serves 4

About 2 pounds monkfish, preferably large fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, cut into ½” pieces (1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and cut into ½” pieces (1/2 cup)
1 small leek, trimmed, leaving some green, split, washed and cut into ½” pieces (1 cup)
1 stalk of celery, cut into ½” pieces (1/3 cup)
1 ¼ cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ cup fruity white wine
1 tablespoon Armagnac or cognac
1 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Cut monkfish into twelve pieces. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, carrot, leek, and celery and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add tomato, tomato paste, garlic, herbs de Provence, salt, cayenne, fennel seeds, wine, brandy, and water, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add fish, cover, and simmer gently over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the pieces of fish from the saucepan and set aside on a platter. Add the butter to the mixture in the pan and, using a hand blender, emulsify the vegetables into a fine puree. You can also leave the sauce chunky if you prefer. Add the fish back into the sauce, sprinkle with the tarragon, and bring to a boil to heat through. Serve with rice.

This will be linked to Food Friday at Designs by Gollum, Miz Helen’s Country Cooking Full Plate Thursday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. When you get a chance, please stop by and welcome back Yvonne at Stone Gable. She took a break for a while and our foodie blogging community has missed her greatly.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spicy Shrimp – two ways to serve the same dish

Often when we think of shrimp, the first thing that comes to mind is “fried or boiled.” Well, that’s certainly not true anymore. Shrimp has come full circle and is as versatile as chicken.

This dish falls in what I call the “small plates” category, meaning a small informal yet chic meal that is healthy without leaving you feeling stuffed. These vividly seasoned shrimp are great on their own or served atop pasta. Leave the tails on for a prettier presentation.

One of the best parts about shrimp is that it’s healthy and good for you. Plus cooking time for shrimp is super speedy, making it perfect for quick and easy meals. The hands-on cooking time for this dish is 20 minutes, so in less than a half hour you can have dinner on the table.

The fun part about this spicy shrimp is that you can serve it two ways - with pasta or without, giving you some versatility.

Spicy Shrimp
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4 - 5

1 ½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled & deveined, preferably wild shrimp
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (or use avocado oil if available)
Lime wedges

Sprinkle shrimp with salt. Combine sugar, chili powder, cumin, coriander and oregano and lightly coat the shrimp with the spice mixture.

Heat a teaspoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add half of the shrimp and sauté 4 minutes or until done. Do not crowd the pan. Remove the shrimp from pan and repeat the procedure, adding 1 more teaspoon of oil before you add the remaining shrimp. Place shrimp on a platter and drizzle with remaining 2 ½ teaspoons oil. Serve with lime wedges. Serving with pasta extends the dish.

This recipe will be linked to Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate ThursdayFoodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Short Ribs Provencale – an excellent dish for entertaining

Short ribs make an excellent dish for entertaining because they can be made well ahead of time and finished at the last minute. For best results, you’ll want to search out the meatiest short ribs you can find.

One of the problems I find with shorts ribs (and other cuts of meat such as lamb shanks) is that frequently the results turn out a bit too fatty for my taste, even when you trim the fat.  After all, we’re all trying to eat healthier today with less fat in our diet.

To remedy not eating some of the fat that inevitably comes from cuts of meat such as short ribs, I cook the dish up to a certain point, skim the fat from the top, and then here’s the important part - I refrigerate the dish overnight to allow more of the fat to rise to the top. The next day I scrape off the additional fat and end up with a much leaner dish. I encourage you to try it with other dishes you cook that contain fatty cuts of meat because this one extra step makes such an incredible difference in the amount of fat in the dish.

Short Ribs Provencale 
Adapted from The Carefree Cook by Rick Rodgers – serves 6

6 pounds individual short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed slightly
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hearty red wine
1 ¾ cups beef stock, preferably reduced sodium and fat free
1 – 14 ½ ounce can diced plain tomatoes in juice, drained (retain juice)
1 large bay leaf
8 ounces baby-cut carrots
½ cup Mediterranean black olives, preferably Nicoise, (I used Kalamatta)
3 tablespoons or more chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Serve with mashed potatoes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees F. Bring the short ribs to room temperature and season with the salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large (at least 6 quart) Dutch oven or flameproof casserole over medium-high heat. In batches, taking care not to crowd, add the short ribs to the pot and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and set aside.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Add the onion, chopped carrot, and celery to the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, Herbs de Provence, and flour and stir until the garlic gives off its aroma, about 1 minute, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a long wooden spoon. Add the broth, tomatoes, and bay leaf. Return the short ribs and any juices that have accumulated, to the pot. If necessary, add the remaining juice from the tomatoes plus cold water so liquid barely reaches the top of the ribs. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Cover tightly, transfer to the oven and bake, stirring occasionally to change the position of the ribs, until the meat is falling-off-of-the-bone tender, about 2 ½ hours. Transfer the short ribs to a deep serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid, discard the fat and the bay leaf.

*Now for the most important step in this recipe if you want this dish to be as lean as possible. As soon as the dish comes to room temperature, return the short ribs to the pot, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next day (or whenever you are planning to serve the dish,) remove from the refrigerator and, with a spoon, scrape off the fat that has accumulated on top of the ribs and the liquid and discard the fat. At this point, you can return the dish to the refrigerator, covered, or you can proceed with the final cooking.

Remove the short ribs and place on a deep platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil over high heat and cook until it is reduced to a sauce consistency, about 10 minutes. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of your pot.

While the sauce is reducing, parboil the baby carrots in boiling water for a few minutes, then brown the carrots in a tiny bit of extra-virgin olive oil until cooked through and glazed on top. Add the ribs, glazed carrots, and olives to the sauce and cook to heat through, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped parsley, then taste and correct the seasonings if necessary. Serve over mashed potatoes.

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This recipe will be linked to Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday and Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum.