29 October 2008

Pan-seared scallops

Scallops are interesting shellfish - they are the only bivalve that swims. Scallops don't attach to rocks or bury themselves like other mollusks; instead they lie free on the ocean floor. They escape predators by using two central muscles to close their shells together, force water out one end and propel themselves through the water. The largest of those muscles, the adductor, serves as the main protein storage component for the scallop. Proteins (or amino acids, particularly glycine) are broken down into glucose, giving the scallop its signature sweet taste. The scallops we purchase and eat are really just the large, central adductor muscle of the scallop. The smaller, tough little muscle that is sometimes attached to scallops is the muscle that holds the shells together. This little muscle should be removed before cooking.

We typically eat 2 different species of scallop. "Sea scallops" (species Pecten) are larger and harvested from deep, cold ocean water year-round. "Bay scallops" (species Argopecten) are smaller and are dredged or gathered by hand closer to shore during a defined season.
Most scallops, following harvest and shucking, are treated with a polyphosphate solution for better preservation. These "wet packed" scallops lose some flavor and contain a lot of liquid. Be sure to drain the scallops thoroughly on paper towels before cooking. Alternatively, you can purchase "dry packed" scallops which have not been treated with any solutions. They can be more difficult to find and are more expensive, but are worth the effort.

Scallops are popular across the world, but particularly in New England, where they are often served fried or broiled with butter and breadcrumbs. However, I love the sweet taste and chewy texture of scallops so much that I prefer a simpler preparation. Pan-searing is a quick and easy method that allows the true taste of the scallop to shine.

I rounded off dish with couscous and spinach sauteed with garlic. After searing the scallops, I added a bit of butter and white wine to make a pan sauce that I drizzled over the dish.

27 October 2008

Butternut Squash Risotto

I've been dreaming of this dish for a while. Roasted squash, sage, creamy risotto - warm, filling and tasty. A perfect dish for a crisp autumn evening.

Easy to make, too. Peel and cube 1 butternut squash & toss with salt, pepper, chopped sage and olive oil. Roast until soft.

Fry some shallots and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add ~2 cups of risotto. Once the risotto is well coated with oil, add ~1 cup of white wine, then 2 cups of chicken broth. Keep adding more broth (and stirring!) until the rice is al dente, then added the squash, some more sage, and season with salt and pepper. Take the pan off the heat and stir in a dollop of butter and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

24 October 2008

Good times, bad times

First, the good times
My brother got married at the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton, CT. It was a tasty business feast. The dinner started off with cocktail hour & tasty appetizers.

Then we sat down for a 4-course meal:
1. Corn Soup (with cauliflower puree and "popcorn")
2. Watercress salad
3. Foie Gras Truffles with pistachios
4. Ricotta Gnocchi with peas, chanterelles, braised fennel, and corn mousseline

(Others had Butter Poached Lobster, Long Island Duck Breast, and New York Strip - I got to taste all of it!)

And, of course, there was wedding cake.

Beautiful wedding, beautiful inn, fantastic location. Congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law!

Now, the bad times
My hard drive died and I lost many (read: all) pictures of tasty business I have taken over the past 6 months. Now I am furiously cooking to get more shots that I can share :((

04 October 2008

Tasty breakfast for fall

Fall is my favorite season for many reasons - awesome weather, leaves, sweaters, pumpkins, my birthday, Halloween, hiking, etc. But one of the best things about fall is the tasty business. Every year, I look forward to squash, freshly picked apples, pumpkin (ice cream, beer, pie, bread, cookies....), soups, stews, braised meats - you know, all those things you don't want to do when it's hot.

I kicked off this fall season with a big bowl of oatmeal. Wrapped in a sweatshirt, I dug my slippers out of the closet, and sat down to a fabulous breakfast complete with a hot mug of tea.

I like to cook oatmeal in milk, rather than water, so that it's super creamy. I top it off with bananas, toasted pecans, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup.

I can make it better at home

Have you ever gone out to a restaurant, read a description of a dish on the menu that had you drooling with excitement, only to be disappointed with the taste? I hate it when this happens. There's nothing more aggravating than paying to have bland, mediocre food served to you. I could serve bland, mediocre food to myself at home for less than half the cost. You never know what's going to happen when you eat out; that's part of the fun. But, in an effort to avoid repeat mistakes, at the end of every restaurant meal I ask myself, "Can I make this better at home?" If the answer is yes, then I don't order that dish (or go to that restaurant - depends on the situation) again. If the answer is no, then I'll go back.

(Note: you may not be able to make it better at home for various reasons - availability or access to certain ingredients, time, skill, etc - the reason is less important than the answer.)

An example:

Not so long ago, I went out to a restaurant, hungry and looking for a good meal. Reading through the menu, I see this appetizer: "Beets and fresh goat cheese, blended with herbs, stacked high and served on a bed of field greens. $7.59."

Sounded like tasty business to me!

Not even close. I got 3 little piles of sad, ice-cold, canned beets, stacked with a little bit of goat cheese (no herbs), stained pink from the beets. Even the greens were wilty and sad. The whole thing was bland and nasty. You could tell these pathetic little things had been stacked up in kitchen walk-in for days, waiting for some chump to order them. Sadly, I was that chump.

But still, the description sounded so tasty. I asked myself, "Can I make this better at home?"

You're damn right I can. I made them & they were fabulous! I suggest you make 'em for yourself.

First, I scrubbed the beets, drizzled them with some olive oil, wrapped them in foil and roasted them until they were soft.

Crazy beets!

Once cool, I peeled and sliced the beets & stacked them with slices of fresh, creamy goat cheese (I didn't use any herbs). I drizzled the stacks with some tasty olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I served them with baby arugula dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper. I topped the dish off with some toasted pecans (next time I would use walnuts). Yummy!

Best part: According to my calculation, I made this meal (2 servings) for ~$5

On a totally different note, beets come out red on the other side. Don't worry, you probably don't have colon cancer, colitis, or some other horrible disease.

03 October 2008

Birthday cake challenge 2008

Two parents, two kids, two birthday cakes. That's all a birthday cake challenge needs. Who won? You be the judge. Next year, I'll let my brother know that we're competing.

His cake: 2 layer chocolate with vanilla frosting & strawberry filling (as seen in the previous post, Summer BBQ "CT Style").

My cake: 4 layer white with meringue frosting, raspberry filling & topped with chocolate ganache.

Whipping up the frosting

Mmmmm! Tasty ganache

The cake