seared scallops and brussels sprouts with bacon

Our suburban neighborhood is blessed to have a bakery and a fish market within its midst. I try to stay out of the bakery, mostly because the pastries are just too good to resist. The fish market, on the other hand, is a treasure trove of enticing fish and shellfish. We are only about an hour away from the Gulf coast – and some of the best fishing locations in the state – so the market has a regular supply of great fresh seafood.

scallops & brussels sprouts

As I’ve mentioned before here, I’m on a mission to learn to cook things I’ve never cooked before. I’ve never cooked scallops, but I love them, and they draw my eye when I see them in the enclosed glass case in the front of the fish market. I’ve been intimidated by scallops, but this weekend I decided it was time to get over that hurdle. So, while I took my daughter shopping for spring clothes, I sent my husband on an errand to buy scallops.

brussels sprouts, blanched

I found a recipe in Gourmet Today that I thought I’d give a try. After all, the scallops were served over Brussels sprouts with bacon. I mean, what sounds better than that?

brussels sprouts with bacon

The Brussels sprouts were fantastic, as expected. They were tender, with no trace of the bitterness that turns many people off, and the crispy bacon bits added a nice salty, smoky flavor. Searing the scallops was a bit of a challenge for me. I blame my husband for this, for no good reason except that he purchased the scallops and he was standing nearby. However, I managed to accomplish my task. And, although it was not pretty, the sweet scallops were delicious and a great compliment to the Brussels with bacon. And I forgave my husband and all was right with the world.

scallops & brussels sprouts

And before I forget, let’s talk about the wine. No meal is complete without the wine, you know. We paired the scallops and Brussels with this yummy 2005 Chalone Estate Chardonnay, and it was a great combination.

Chalone Estate Grown 2005 Chardonnay

Seared Scallops with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

(only slightly adapted from Gourmet Today, or you can find a very similar recipe here)

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

Salt

4 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch-wide pieces

1 1/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Fresh ground black pepper

1 pound sea scallops

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (for warming the Brussels sprouts when done).
  2. Blanch Brussels sprouts in boiling salted water for 2 minutes; drain and set aside.
  3. Cook bacon over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Transfer bacon with slotted spoon to paper-towel-lined bowl and reserve rendered bacon fat in another small bowl.
  4. Add 1/3 cup chicken stock and 1/4 cup water to skillet, bring to simmer, and scrape up any brown bits. Add sugar, butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and Brussels sprouts to pan; simmer uncovered for 4 minutes. Remove lid and cook over moderately high heat for another 8-12 minutes or until liquid has evaporated and sprouts are tender (to your liking). Stir in bacon, transfer to a platter, and keep warm (covered) in oven.
  5. Wipe skillet clean. Pat scallops dry and season them with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon peper. Heat oil with 2 teaspoons of the reserved bacon fat in the skillet over moderately high heat until the oil/fat begins to smoke. Add scallops and sear, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through, 4-6 minutes. Transfer to another platter and cover loosely with foil.
  6. Pour off any remaining fat from skillet. Add remaining 1 cup chicken stock, bring to simmer, and scrape up any brown bits. Simmer for one minute. Stir cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water in a cup, then add to sauce (along with any juices accumulated in scallop platter), and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve scallops over the Brussels and top with sauce.
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keller’s ad hoc-inspired roast chicken

“How did you get the skin so crispy?” It was the first thing my husband asked me as he started carving the bird. I took this as an indicator that this recipe, although we had not tasted it yet, was going to be a great one.

roast chicken & veggies

Let me back up a bit. Before I made this, I had only roasted a chicken once before – years ago, when I was just starting to learn to cook. Unfortunately for me, that first chicken had a few scraggly feathers still left on it when I unwrapped it from the grocer’s plastic. Those few chicken feathers immediately conjured up images of happy white-feathered hens clucking around the yard, and that train of thought led me to think of the pet chicken we owned when I was a kid. Dixie was a sweet hen who, in all honesty, thought she was a dog. Her best friend was our dog, Jesse, and she was always at Jesse’s side.

So, those feathers left on that raw chicken made it really difficult for me to roast and cut up the bird. And I certainly did not enjoy one single bite of it. And, because I was acting so squeamish about the whole thing, I’m sure my husband didn’t enjoy it either. He ate it, but I think he was expecting a good case of food poisoning after the experience.

chicken

But this is a new era for me. Time – and practice in the kitchen – have helped me become less squeamish about handling raw meats, including chickens with scraggly feathers left on them. So, I decided it was time to roast a chicken again.

I’ve mentioned this before, but Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home is a fantastic book, and he has a wonderful recipe on page 22 for roasting a whole chicken on a bed of root vegetables. What I love about his recipes is that he gives great tips before each recipe for how to ensure a perfect result. At the beginning of this recipe, Keller says,

The root vegetables make a bed for the chicken, and the rendering fat and juices from the chicken flavor the vegetables. If you have a big cast-iron skillet, use that.

roasting veggies

For the crispy skin, which was the first thing my husband noticed, Keller advises,

We also often leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for a day or two, which dries the skin and thus helps it to crisp during the roasting.

Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet has written a post detailing the recipe from Keller’s book, so I’ll refer you there for the details.

I used the vegetables that I had on hand, which did not include the rutabagas, leeks, and turnips that the recipe calls for. Instead I used some red new potatoes, small Yukon gold potatoes, a yellow onion, and some carrots. I also used the new Lodge cast-iron skillet I purchased about a month ago. And, since I didn’t know that I was going to roast a chicken two days prior to making it, my chicken sat uncovered in the fridge for about six hours.

roasting veggies

And the chicken? It had intensely flavorful, crispy skin and was moist and tender on the inside. The vegetables were the most flavorful roast vegetables I’ve ever made, thanks to the rendered chicken fat in the skillet. I still need to practice my chicken trussing technique, but that’s simply a cosmetic issue.

roast chicken & veggies

So, thank you, Mr. Keller, for the perfect recipe for reintroducing me to roasting a chicken.

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poached egg over brioche with pistou

I must confess something. Prior to this meal, I have never poached an egg. I have eaten poached eggs, but I have never made them myself. It has been on my to do list for some time. So, today, I poached my first egg.

basil

I made the pistou in my mini food processor using some basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic. My basil plant died this winter, so I had to buy some for this dish. I fully intend to have basil in my new garden. Did I mention I’m going to be starting my first garden? It’s very exciting.

brioche

Our local bakery, The Flour Pot, makes a wonderful brioche. I picked up a loaf this morning, and it took all I could do to resist eating it before lunch.

organic brown eggs

I toasted a slice of brioche, shaved some parmesan cheese over the toast, topped it with one poached egg, and then sprinkled the pistou and some fleur de sel over the top. It was fabulous. And gone within about 30 seconds.

a delicious lunch

Lessons learned today:

  1. Poaching an egg is not rocket science, but it’s not the easiest thing either. I’m sure with practice I’ll figure out how to get rid of those trailing strands of egg white.
  2. Poached eggs are divine.
  3. Pistou is a great addition for ramping up flavor. So is fleur de sel.
  4. I need a personal photographer to capture some of the more interesting steps of the process – like the egg poaching part. I’m not sure my husband will give up his day job, though. I can’t pay that well.

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simple sunday dinner

Sometimes I just crave a simple dinner, and Sunday was one of those days. After browsing through cookbooks and my latest food magazines, I just couldn’t get motivated to prep something creative and exciting. The fact that I had caught a cold over the weekend wasn’t helping matters, of course. It’s very hard to imagine cooking something fabulous when you can’t even smell it, you know?

brussels

With the warm weather we had yesterday – sunshine, low 70s – it seemed the perfect evening to use the grill. My husband made a quick trip to the grocery, and he came home with two steaks, a bag of Brussels sprouts, and potatoes.

fingerling potatoes

fingerling potatoes

The kids ate early, and during their bathtime, I prepped veggies and brought the steaks up to room temperature. The steaks were seasoned with olive oil,  Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and then grilled to about medium.  While the fingerling potatoes roasted in the oven, I sauteed the  Brussels sprouts in olive oil and seasoned them with Kosher salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar at the end.

steak dinner

Served with an easy-drinking glass of 2005 Marietta cabernet sauvignon, it was a perfect simple Sunday dinner.

(Note: the last photo illustrates what bad lighting does to an otherwise decent photo of good food. )

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lovely lemon bars

Last week as I was browsing some of my favorite food blogs, I came across this post for lemon shortbread bars from La Fuji Mama. Then I discovered this lemon bar post by Smitten Kitchen. You see, I have a thing for lemon bars. You may have guessed that.

lemon shortbread bars

So, after a tough week, I thought making a nice batch of these tart but sweet treats might lift my spirits and brighten the weekend.

lemons for lemon bars

I wanted to use Meyer lemons, but my impatience got the better of me. I sent my husband to the closest grocery store to see what he could find, and regular ol’ lemons it was. No Meyers.

IMG_7784

I used a blend of recipes for these lemon bars. I slightly modified La Fuji Mama’s recipe for the shortbread crust by adding a half teaspoon of Kosher salt. For the filling, I used this recipe from Gourmet magazine, but I added a teaspoon of lemon zest and half teaspoon of good vanilla.

shortbread crust, ready to bake

IMG_7786

freshly dusted

I loved the thickness of the shortbread. The ratio of lemon filling to shortbread was essentially one to one, and this helped cut down on the tartness of the lemon in each bite. The best thing? Watching my family devour them. It worked — my spirits were lifted.

lemon shortbread bars

lemon shortbread bars

Lemon Shortbread Bars

(Adapted from La Fuji Mama & Gourmet)

Ingredients for Shortbread Base:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar (plus 3 tbsp for dusting the top of the bars)

1-1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Ingredients for Lemon Filling:

4 large eggs

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon good vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish.

2. Make the shortbread base: Using a food processor, combine the flour, confectioner’s sugar, butter, and salt. Pat dough into greased baking dish. Bake for 18-20 minutes (crust will be slightly golden-colored).

3. While shortbread base is baking, make the lemon filling: Whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar until combined well. Stir in lemon juice, flour, vanilla, and lemon zest.

4. Pour lemon filling into baking dish, over the hot shortbread filling. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until filling is set.

5. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Sift confectioner’s sugar over bars prior to serving.

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a grits revelation

Being from the south, I know grits. And I like grits. [Side note: I feel like I should throw in a Ya’ll or two here, but I’ll resist.]

Anyhoo…I’ve never actually made grits. I confess that in the distant past, I have microwaved a package of instant grits for my kids, but only once or twice. A long time ago. Before I turned over this new culinary leaf.
creamy grits with pulled pork
Grits have become very popular it seems. I’ve seen lots of recipes for creamy grits, and I’ve seen them show up more frequently on restaurant menus. The best brand according to all the hype is Anson Mills. For my first try at making grits, I really wanted to make the Anson Mills variety, but none of the local markets here carry them. I was able to find a brand in the local Fresh Market called Charleston’s Own, so I decided to go with those. What the heck.

Given that it was a work-day, I put a pork shoulder in the slow cooker (following this recipe from Better Homes & Gardens) first thing in the morning, and I worked on the grits when I came home. For the creamy grits, I semi-followed this recipe from Gourmet magazine. [Another side note:  I really, really, really miss that magazine.]
pulled pork with creamy stone ground grits
And these grits were the best grits I’ve ever eaten. The pulled pork was juicy and had some heat to it at the finish, and the creaminess of the grits was the perfect counterbalance to that heat. My husband — who told me just as I was serving it up, “You know, I don’t really like grits,” — really enjoyed the entire dish, grits included.

Never, ever again will I tear open and microwave a package of instant grits. I’m a stone-ground grits convert.

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expanding my horizons: the blood orange

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but up until this past weekend, I had never tasted a blood orange. Yes, I live in Florida, where the state fruit is the orange, and the state flower is the orange blossom. However, blood oranges are not native to Florida. So there. I don’t feel so bad now.
trio of blood orange slices
I think part of me was always worried about stains, too. I’m sort of peculiar that way. It’s the same reason I’ve never eaten a fresh pomegranate.
trio of blood orange slices
Verdict? My daughter and I really liked the subtle sweetness of the blood orange. It was really easy to peel, and it sections beautifully. My son refused to eat something that color. My husband wouldn’t wake up from his nap to try it.
blood orange slices

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