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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Salad that Saved Scallops

On a slightly ambitious whim, I bought some scallops the other day.  Not just some. A pound.  Now this might not sound like a big deal, but:

A. There's only me and Ty.  And a pound  = 15 BIG scallops.
B. I've never cooked scallops in my life
C. I don't even really LIKE cooked scallops.

I mean, just look at them.

So you can see why this might have been a rash decision.

But they were on sale!  And it was a challenge!  Two things I can never say no to.

Truthfully, the only scallops I ever really enjoy are raw and tucked in sushi rolls with other stuff.  When they're cooked, they seem like sort of fishy, flavorless lumps of rubbery something-I'd-rather-not-think-about.  I've eaten them....but I have never really honestly enjoyed them.

Until maybe now.

Now I will admit something: cooking scallops is harder than it looks.  Sure, when you watch Hell's Kitchen and see Gordan Ramsey throw a pan of imperfect scallops across the dining room because a competitor has sent them raw up to the pass, you think, "Jesus, all you're doing is searing them in a little oil- how hard is it to watch them turn golden?"  Or at least I do.  But you DO have to have the heat just right- high enough to get a nice, browned exterior without leaving the inside underdone, yet low enough that you don't burn the oil and destroy a very nice, $100 all-clad skillet (like I nearly did).  Most of my scallops came out all right for it being my first time, but I had a few that were a little rubbery.  So I'm sorry Hell's Kitchen contestants- I will now only continue to judge you on your horrendous personalities, rather than your cooking abilities.

So this is the salad that saved scallops for me.  The best thing about it is that it is quick to prep and easy enough to make as a decadent lunch to impress someone special...or just treat yourself.  Hazelnut oil is my new-found love, and I plan to use this dressing in many other salads.  The balance of a hearty amount (and I do mean A LOT OF) blue cheese, crispy red onions, and fresh dill combined with the sweetness of the dressing compliments the simplicity of the scallops.  It just all comes together very nicely, and YES- Tyler and I did eat a whole pound of scallops for lunch.  And I liked it.

Seared Scallop Salad with Orange-Hazelnut Vinaigrette
adapted from Perfect Spanish Cookbook

1 lb fresh shelled scallops, (bay or sea)
1/4 red onion, sliced very thinly
6 oz blue cheese or gorgonzola
4 Tbsp orange juice
3 tsp hazelnut oil
4 tsp olive oil, divided
1/2 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped very finely
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
salad greens
salt and pepper

Whisk together orange juice and garlic.  Continue to whisk while slowly pouring in hazelnut oil and 1 tsp olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse scallops and pat dry.  Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the scallops and cook over high heat until each side is golden brown.  Transfer scallops to a bed of salad greens, scatter blue cheese, dill and onions over the top, and drizzle with dressing.  Serve warm.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Homemade Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

Since we are smack-dab in the middle of summer here in Sacramento, and the temperature has started to skyrocket, I find myself craving ice cream nearly all the time.  AND I've decided not to feel guilty about it.  You see, ice cream is not meant to be just an after-dinner treat.  When Ty and I went to Peru a few years ago, I remember 10am and 2pm being appropriate times to enjoy an ice cream cone out in the plaza- not just for us, but for all the local kids...and businessmen.  It was like clockwork.  The ice cream carts were busier than I've ever seen them here in Sacramento, and no one looked like they felt guilty about indulging in an after breakfast/lunch dessert.  There is nothing quite like sitting on a park bench on a breezy midmorning watching adults walk around with ice cream cones in their hands and smiles on their faces.

So why, oh why, can't I?

Tyler brought home two bags of fresh cherries the other day, which prompted me to experiment in making my favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor and discover how it stands up to the original.  The result: very satisfied! This recipe is EASY and delicious- and not terrible for you.  If you want to go all out and experience a much richer, creamier texture, you can always sub in more cream for the half and half/milk portions- it's up to you. 

Homemade Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

3 c fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 1/4 c sugar, divided
4-5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 c milk
1 c heavy cream
1 3/4 c half and half
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 12 oz bar of dark chocolate (I used 70% dark, but you can use your favorite)

In a small bowl, combine the cherries with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Stir gently and allow the cherries to macerate in the juices for at least 3 hours (overnight if you can wait that long).  Gently mash the cherries with a fork or potato masher, then strain, reserving the juices.  Take about 1/3 of the cherries and puree them with a blender.  Set juices, halved cherries, and pureed cherries aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixter on low to combine the milk and remaining sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.  Stir in heavy cream, half and half, vanilla, cherry juice, and pureed cherries.

Chop the chocolate into chocolate-chip sized chunks, no bigger or it could ruin your machine.  Set aside.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine* and let it do it's thing.  Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the halved cherries and chocolate chunks.  Mix-ins should be completely incorporated before stopping your machine.

*Make sure to follow your ice cream machine's directions for mix-ins and quantity.  This recipe makes about 7 cups of ice cream, so double check your machine's specs before you start!

For firmer consistency, transfer to a freezer-safe container for at least 2 hours to set.  Or enjoy right out of the machine, like I did.  Yummy!

A Fresh Twist on Fish

Ok. Let me preface by saying that I love me a good fish dish.  Cook it any way you like- fried, sauteed, seared, baked or breaded- and I will gobble it up.  Seriously, mothers around the world would be proud of how well I can clean my plate when it comes to seafood.  Now that its summer and Tyler and I have been focusing on lighter fare to escape the heat, fish has become an excellent (and cheap, if you shop at TJs) staple in our dinner (and sometimes lunch) diets.

But how to keep it interesting?

I came across this fantastic recipe on, and can honestly say I've never tried anything like it.  It is an extremely simple recipe, a quick clean-up (which Tyler likes), and the flavors are new, interesting, and refreshing.  I made this for Sarah last time she came to visit, and I wish I could make it for every house guest I ever have.....but come to think of it, why couldn't I?

Now, if you're not exactly an adventurous cook, you may need to make a quick grocery list before making this dish.  The sides are optional, but I found that red quinoa was a beautiful (and light and healthy!) addition, and counted loosely as a "starch" (I know it's a seed, but it's close enough).  For greens, wilted spinach or mustard greens were delicious- I even tried out a new Thai spinach from the farmers market, which had much bigger leaves than normal spinach and were highlighted with beautiful streaks of purple....nothing like adding some beauty to your meal, especially after you make something like this.  But feel free to use rice, potatoes along with a salad or green long as you have a starch and a veggie to balance it out. (Another hint: It's also DELICIOUS if you pile all those ingredients + fish + sauce on a crispy piece of toasty ciabatta....I'm just sayin'....)

I've made this dish with both halibut and talapia, and I assume it would work with most varieties of white fish. The halibut was a much "meatier" meal, being a heavier fish, and stood up nicely against the spicy sauce, but the talapia was fresh and light and as long as you went a little lighter on the sauce, the subtle flavors were not overpowered.  So in addition to being delicious, this is a very versatile recipe, so good luck and good eats!

Garam Masala Halibut with Spicy Mint-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

1  serrano pepper*, halved**
1/2  cup  fresh cilantro leaves
1/2  cup  chopped green onions
1/4  cup  Greek-style yogurt
4  tsp  low-fat cream cheese
1 1/2  tsp  fresh lemon juice
1/2  tsp  minced peeled fresh ginger
1/8  tsp  salt
1/8  tsp  sugar
1/8  tsp cumin seeds
1  garlic clove, crushed
2  Tbsp  chopped fresh mint
1/2  tsp  garam masala
1/4  tsp  salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4  (6-ounce) skinless halibut fillets (or any white fish you like)
1  Tbsp  olive oil
1  Tbsp butter

*Serranos are notoriously spicy, despite their small size.  I used a whole pepper and had trouble finishing my meal without 2 or 3 beers....I would recommend using HALF a pepper to start- maybe even a quarter if you are a weakling (no judgement).

**Also, if you do not have gloves, use small plastic baggies (sandwich bags work well) to cover your hands whenever handling these peppers. The juice from these babies are brutal, and linger long after you think you've washed it all away.  Contact-lens wearers, I'm talking to YOU.  I'm speaking from experience here, so chop safely, people.

Remove seeds from half the serrano pepper; leave seeds in other half of pepper. Place both pepper halves in a mini food processor and pulse until minced. Add cilantro and next 9 ingredients (through garlic) and process until smooth.  Add mint, and pulse about 5 times (you want the mint to be more chunky than the rest of the ingredients).  Set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine garam masala, salt and pepper; sprinkle evenly over both sides of the fish. Add oil and butter to pan; swirl until butter melts. Add fish to pan; cook about 3 minutes on each side (depending on type of fish!) or until desired degree of doneness.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hearty Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

I know what you're going to say.  It looks gross. I prefer to call it "rustic." I have a beautiful tart recipe I really wanted to try, but I also had pounds of zucchini in the this is what came of that.  I remember buying lots for a specific reason.....I just don't remember that reason now.  So I made a favorite snack from smitten- quick zucchini saute (a MUST never thought something so simple could be so delicious)....but still had a lot of leftover zucchini.

So zucchini bread it is.

I can honestly say I've never tried making it before now.  Can you tell by the first picture?  Of course, I HAVE gobbled it up when coworkers and friends have offered me some, but for some reason I'd never gotten around to making my own.  I remembered my mentor teacher from phase III of my teaching credential program talking about how she loved to jazz up her baking recipes with extra cinnamon and flax seed, subbing whole wheat flour for the normal stuff. I was inspired to come up with a slightly healthier version that I could get away with eating without feeling guilty; one that would last me a week's worth of busy teacher breakfasts (once I lock down that job...).  And this was the result.

I started with smitten's recipe and went from there- as usual, adding and adjusting to my hearts content. I still think this recipe is a work in progress: next time I will try omitting all the oil for applesauce just to see how it comes out (and I'll let you know- I'm afraid it will change the consistency- we'll see)...but I thought it turned out pretty darn amazing.  It's probably not as sweet and light as traditional zucchini breads you're used to, but that's sort of the point.  The whole wheat flour makes it much more dense and filling.  One big slice of this stuff will fill you up.  And it makes two loaves, so unless you plan on sharing with family or coworkers, you might want to freeze one for later!

Hearty Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread
loosely adapted from SmittenKitchen

3 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
2-3 Tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
1 c raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
3 large eggs
2 1/2 c grated zucchini
1/2 c olive oil
3/4 c applesauce
1 1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
softened butter for greasing the pans

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease two loaf pans* with butter and set aside.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Add flax seed, walnuts, and raisins/cranberries if you like.

Whisk eggs and sugar together until sugar is dissolved.  Add remaining wet ingredients and mix well.

Add wet to dry and fold together until combined.  Pour evenly into the two loaf pans and bake for about 50-60 min, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean.

*You could also use muffin tins, but the bake time will be cut down substantially, so watch them closely!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Curry Carrot Soup

It's been a while since I've posted, and I have a crap ton of recipes to share from over the past month or so.   A lot has happened since you last heard from me.  I'm still frantically applying for teaching jobs, hoping to snag one by August, but it's not looking good....and as a result I have turned back to food service..which I swore I would never do once I had my credential.  But lo and behold, California is financially f***ed right now, and teachers (among many other important professions) are paying the price.

So I found a job at a casino, quickly quit after experiencing a week and a half of horror, and was lucky enough to get my old job back at the Marriott where I have picked up 4-5 shifts a week in room service, the restaurant, and bar.  Although it's not my dream job, I'm glad that I work so close to home with great people and a good boss....and it pays the bills....barely.  Although it's not ideal, I'm content for now; though one downside is that I have far less time for cooking now that I work nights, since dinner seems to be my meal of choice.  However, I have been saving up a few recipes to share with you, so I vow to keep the posts short and more frequent, because there are some dinners and desserts coming that will blow your mindhole.

This is my favorite carrot soup recipe to date- especially for summer.  Its great hot or chilled, and you can vary the heat factor depending on your tongue's tolerance.  Personally, I love a good, spicy kick in the teeth, but for you sensitive types, I recommend using about half the curry paste the recipe calls for to start.....and you can always add more.

Silly lil' side note: I came up with this recipe the same day Sarah posted hers.  I guess great minds think alike!  For her non-curry version (and other gluten-free creations) check out her blog here.

Curry Carrot Soup

5 cups carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
5 Tbsp fresh ginger, diced
3 large cloves of garlic, diced
1 box + 1 1/2 c of veggie stock
1 can coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbsp red curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen)
2 tsp fish sauce
pepper to taste

Coat a stock pot generously with olive oil on medium heat.  Once the pot is hot, add the onions and shallots, stirring every now and then until they become slightly translucent.  Add pepper flakes, garlic and ginger and cook at least 2-3 minutes more, or until the flavors mix and your kitchen smells like heaven.  Some stoves may run a little hotter (like mine), so watch this mixture and turn down the heat a little if you need to- just don't let the garlic burn!  Next, mix in carrots and half the stock, kicking up the heat to high, and cover until the carrots are softened.  Stir in red curry paste until incorporated.

Remove carrot mixture from heat and transfer to a blender.  Puree (in batches, if necessary) until smooth.  Transfer back to stock pot and return heat to a low simmer.  Stir in remaining stock, coconut milk, fish sauce and pepper.  Serve hot with a garnish of fresh basil or cilantro.