Archive | October, 2009

Sweet Scallops

28 Oct

IMG_0913Tonight’s dinner was suppose to be potato leek soup, but plans changed. Have you ever been walking through the grocery store and had a list? You know exactly what you are getting. You know what is on the menu for dinner. But, just when you least expect it, you see something out of the corner of your eye.

This is not diamonds or gold but sweet, succulent seafood. The little gems that tempted me today were scallops. Typically you have your choice of large diver scallops or tiny bay scallops. Each is wonderful in it’s own right, but my favorite are the divers. These sweet little bivalves provide a blank palette for a multitude of flavoring. You can wrap them in bacon, grill them glazed with hoisin sauce, or my favorite, seared perfectly with just a little salt and pepper.

Scallops can be served accompanied by lots of things. The sides should compliment the sweetness of the scallops, so avoid anything too spicy or too acidic. When I was working at the restaurant, we served our seared scallops over wild mushroom risotto. They are also great over rice, polenta, or a salad. Tonight, I decided a warm lentil salad sounded like the best bet. Here’s the recipe:

Seared Scallops Over Warm Lentil Salad

5 medium or 3 large scallops
1/2 cup lentils, cooked
1/8 cup corn
1/4 cup tomatoes, small dice
2 tablespoons basil, chiffonade
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the scallops. Season and set aside. Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Pat the scallops dry and season. When oil is hot, add the scallops to the pan and DO NOT move. If you move the scallops around while they are cooking, they will not get the beautiful brown sear on the outside. Cook the scallops for about 1 minute on each side. You can tell they are ready to flip when you see that the edges are turning light brown and the sides are starting to look opaque. While the scallops are cooking, heat the salad in the microwave for 1 minute. It’s only going to be warm when you serve it, but yo can heat it all the way through if you want to. Just make sure to leave the basil out until the end if you choose to do this.

Always thinking of the next meal


Breakfast of Champions

25 Oct

On the weekends, Ryan and I love to have big breakfasts. (Actually, we don’t always wait for the weekends.) We love having eggs in the morning and our favorite way to eat them is wrapped is a nice, soft, toasty tortilla. That’s right, a breakfast burrito.

This tradition of Tex-Mex tastiness started when I was little. My dad would get up in the morning and start making breakfast. I was usually up soon after, but sometimes my dad would resort to creatively cruel ways to wake my brother. (i.e. banging on pops and pans, letting the dog into his room, or even the unexpected ice cold shower) Anyway, he always called these breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, but I know better now.

Of course the concept of these burritos is fairly simple. Take a burrito, add eggs and viola, breakfast burrito. But it does have a little bit of science to it.

First, make sure you have good tortillas. As Ryan and I have learned the hard way, a bad tortilla means your burrito may crack and break while you are trying to roll it, or worse, it breaks all over you while you are trying to eat it. We stick to Mission brand when we can or we use the small corn tortillas if that’s what we have.

Second, have your ingredients ready to go inside the burrito before cooking the eggs. Let me be the first to say that rubbery, over-cooked eggs are not tasty. Cook your bacon ahead of time, chop and cook; onions, peppers, zucchini, and corn, and if you are using beans make sure they are rinsed and ready to go. Next, the cheese. This is a very important element to the burrito. Ryan likes his with American cheese, but I’m partial to an extra sharp cheddar. In the spirit of the Tex-Mex, queso fresco or queso blanco would be lovely as well.

Start with your warmed tortilla on a plate, add the cheese and other ingredients. Top with the eggs. (we scramble ours, but fried eggs are good too, but over easy tend to make a mess) Add any topping, roll and serve.

Really you can fill these bad boys with anything your heart desires. The more creative the better. Try some chirizo, or leeks. I love some fresh pico de gallo in mine or left-over grilled chicken. Toppings here are also important. Just before wrapping, finish your burrito off with ketchup, salsa, BBQ sauce or hot pepper sauce. Again, it’s what ever you like on your eggs. Again, before rolling make sure you tortilla is warm. A cold tortilla is more likely to break while rolling.

This breakfast is nicely complemented by hash browns, french fries, roasted potatoes, or our favorite, tater tots.  Not feeling that hungry… if you’ve done the burrito right it can be plenty on its own.

Not an egg person? Try a sweet version. Peanut butter, bananas, walnuts, and honey make a great combination. Or try nutella with toasted hazelnuts and fresh strawberries.

Anyway you make it, breakfast burritos are a great start to any morning.

Always thinking of the next meal


Slow Cooked, Big Reward

23 Oct

IMG_0909Whoever coined the phrase, “all good things come to those who wait,” was right. When food is cooked slowly at low temperatures, it allows the fat in the meat the tendons holding the meat together to slowly melt and flavor the meat. Typically that is why tough, fatty cuts of meat are selected for slow cooking or braising.

For me there is nothing more intoxicating that the aroma of red meat being slowly cooked in the juices of fresh red peppers, mirepoix and wine. Add in the fragrance of fennel seeds, black pepper and oregano, and baby, you have the key to my heart. All these perfume companies make scents with flowers, sandlewood and vanilla, but they are missing the mark. What women wouldn’t be wooed by a man smelling like he had been in the kitchen all day?

Anyway, tonight’s dinner is slow cooked boneless, country style beef ribs. I’m cooking them with mirepoix (carrots, celery and onions), red peppers, the afore mentioned spices and pinot grigio. Why pinot and not a red? Well, normally I would use a chianti or merlot, but the fact of the matter is that I had white open, and so that’s what went in. Sometimes the best dishes come from what you invent with what you have in the kitchen.

Italian Style Beef RibsIMG_0911

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 large yellow onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, rough chopped
1/2 cup baby carrots
1 large red bell pepper, sliced in 1 inch strips
1 1/2 pound country style, boneless beef ribs
1 1/2 cups pinot grigio, or whatever wine you have on hand (just make sure you like it)
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
6 basil leaves, chiffonade for garnish
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese for garnish

After cooking for 4 and half hours

After cooking for 4 and half hours

Combine everything in a slow cooker except for the basil and cheese. Cook on high for 4 hours on high, and 4-5 hours on low. The longer it cooks the more tender the meat and more broken down the vegetables will be. When the meat is finished cooking, you can serve the vegetables on the side or if they are really broken down purée into a sauce. Serve over polenta or roasted potatoes.

This is truly a comfort food for me. When I get home from being out all day, and I walk in the house and smell that gorgeous aroma, I can’t help but take a deep breath and relax. I’ll be serving a lovely A-Mano Primitivo along side for the perfect pairing. I can’t wait for dinner tonight.

Always thinking of the next meal


The Versatility of Roasted Chicken

21 Oct

IMG_0901There are many basic techniques that can aid one in their quest for ultimate kitchen enlightenment, however, I think that the technique for roasting a chicken is the secret key to conquest.

There are 3 main components to the perfect roasted chicken.

1. Chicken

2. Heat

3. Time

First, the chicken. What size you need is determined by how many people you are planning on feeding. If you assume that each person will eat between 1/4 and 1/2 pounds of chicken, you would want to buy a bird accordingly. If you are only feeding 2 people you might want to consider purchasing cornish game hens. The hens tend to be a bit gamier in flavor, but the roasting technique is the same. For the sake of an example I’ll use a 5 pound bird. Make sure that you note the packaging so that you know if you should be looking for a paper treasure in the chicken. It’s not a crisis if you leave the giblet in the chicken during roasting, but you are losing some of the tastiest bits to make gravy with.

Element 2: the heat. Heat is a bit relative depending on the size of the bird and if you want the skin crispy. Crispy skin is a great debate in my house. No one really eats it, but it does look beautiful when it comes out of the oven. So, the question to me in not so much about skin, but about moist delicious meat. Oh yes, I’d love both and I most certainly strive for both, but I’ll take great moist chicken meat over crispy skin any day.

With my chicken I start with the oven at 400 degrees and let it cook for 45 minutes. Then I turn the temperature down to 350 and allow it to cook for another 30 minutes. This addresses the third element, time. This is a relative cooking time as every chicken is different. For the 5 pound chicken tis would be approximately the right time, but the only way to know if you chicken is cooked through is to use a thermometer and make sure that it has reached 165 degrees. You can take it out of the oven at 155 degrees if you want since there will be some carry over cooking.

So know you have this delicious, freshly cooked chicken (or rotisserie chicken from the grocery store) what do you do with it? Well eating it with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans is a good start, but the possibilities are endless. Chicken tacos, chicken salad, stir fried chicken, BBQ chicken pizza are on the top of my list. Here’s my recipe for chicken salad:

Chicken Salad
serves 2

1/2 pound diced chicken
3 tablespoons light mayo
1/4 cup red grapes, quartered
1/8 cup celery, small diced
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve on toasted wheat bread with romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes

Always thinking of the next meal


Pozole… Spicy Mexican Chicken Soup

19 Oct

Yes, another post about soup. But seriously I love this stuff. It’s 50 degrees here and breezy. Fall is definitely here and soup is just so warming and fulfilling. This soup is a little different. A traditional Mexican soup, it has hominy, a chewy, hulled kernel of corn, and ancho chilies. The soup itself is pretty simple, but it is garnished table side with any number of things. My version is garnished with cilantro and lime juice, but you can also use radishes, red onion, scallions or corn chips.

The other thing to note here is that I roasted my own chicken but you can certainly you can use a purchased rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. You can also use leftover grilled chicken or if you are looking for a vegetarian version just omit the chicken and use vegetable stock.

Here’s the recipe:

serves 4
1/2 sweet yellow onion, julienned
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 12 oz can hominy, rinsed
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 large ancho chili, julienned
2 cups shredded chicken
32 oz chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

for garnish:
1 lime cut into wedges
1/2 cup cilantro, rough chopped


IMG_08951. Sauté onions in oil until soft, about 10 minutesIMG_0897

2. Season and add in the hominy

3. Cook to heat hominy through

4. Add tomatoes and chilies

5. Add stock and bring to a boil

IMG_08966. Reduce to a simmer and add in chickenIMG_0898

7. Cook for 15 minutes to heat chicken

8. Garnish and Serve

This is a great twist on chicken soup. The ancho chilies are not overly spicy so they don’t overpower the soup. Like chicken noodle, every version is different, so feel free to use different chilies. You can make a green version by using tomatillos and poblano peppers instead of the tomatoes and ancho chilies. If you’re a  bit nervous about how spicy the end result is going to be, you can garnish with some queso fresco or sour cream.

The end result

The end result

Always thinking of the next meal


Lettuce Entertain You

13 Oct

Ok so I’ve been hearing a lot of conversation about how lettuce has no nutritional value. Well the truth of the matter is that lettuce really doesn’t have that much nutritional value. It is a green leafy vegetable, so there are some nutrients. But, the lighter varieties like iceberg and romaine are further from the big nutritional ticket than say green leaf or arugula. Here’s the thing, people have no problem eating french fries and burgers and deep fried cheese,  but they are extremely picky when it comes to lettuce. Sure lettuce isn’t king when it comes to nutritional hierarchy, but it does carry a lot of water, and if nothing else a great base for salads.

IMG_0876Iceberg lettuce always get a bum wrap when it comes to salads. Oh it has no value, oh it’s like eating nothing. Well people, iceberg contributes one main thing to any salad it’s added to and that’s crunch. Sure romaine is crunchy, but nothing tops iceberg when it comes to crunch satisfaction. To the right is a picture of one of Ryan’s favorite salads, the wedge salad.

The wedge salad got started in the 50’s when iceberg was really the only lettuce in the game. It was a “wedge” from the head of iceberg, topped with tomatoes, nuts and other accompaniments. Iceberg was the only lettuce that was available to the general public and so really people just didn’t know that there were other lettuces available.

In the 70’s, with the produce revolt in California, people had to change their thinking on what lettuce meant. They started turning more unique lettuces. Unfortunately this was the temporary end of the wedge salad. But, as with most things, the wedge salad got another chance to shine. Today, you see this classic salad on the menu of trendy restaurants all over the country. Here’s my simple recipe

Wedge Salad

1/4 head of iceberg lettuce
cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup cooked, crispy bacon
3 tablespoons bleu cheese dressing, bottled or homemade
1 tablespoon, bleu cheese crumbles

Always thinking of the next meal


Plum Perfect

11 Oct

IMG_0861Plums are hitting the peak of their season. Late summer and early fall produce sweet, spicy plums that yield beautifully fulfilling flavors. I think that plums can be easily overlooked as an ingredient. Sure plenty of people eat plums out of hand, and eat them dried as prunes, but there are far fewer recipes that include plums when compared to say apples or peaches.

At work one day they were giving out plums for free. Being that free just happens to be one of my favorite words,IMG_0863 I couldn’t resist. I grabbed a few without knowing how I was going to use them. When I got home I looked through a few of my cookbooks only to be disappointed with average sounding recipes for plum, raspberry tarts and plum preserves. So I looked online and found a recipe for plum tatin by Ina Garten. I brought it to my aunt’s house on Thursday and it was a huge hit. Although everyone had a few reserves about a dense cake with plums, it happily surprised everyone. The cake was sweet but not overwhelming. The plums paired nicely with the additional allspice and cinnamon added into the recipe. Although we didn’t have any, the cake would have been great with a little french vanilla ice cream.

Since I didn’t use all of the plums I took the remaining fruits and quartered them. I tossed them with some avocado honey and gray sea salt. I put them in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. I wanted to serve them like that with vanilla yogurt but fate had other plans.

Later in the week I had an urge to bake. Since I had already made the cake I didn’t want to repeat, so this time I made a plum apple crisp. Here’s the recipe:

Plum Apple CrumbleIMG_0873

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 stick butter
1 pound apples sliced
1 pound plums, quartered

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and add in the butter until the mixture looks like cornmeal and holds together. Arrange the fruit in the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Cover with the crumb mixture and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbling. If you want, you can let the crumble cool and drizzle with a glaze made with powdered sugar and maple syrup.

Give plums a shot at the spotlight when it comes to dessert.

Always thinking of the next meal