Thursday, January 31, 2013

Seared Scallops with Blood Orange Sauce and Bitter Greens

After nearly two weeks straight of soups, stews, and other hearty fare consumed to chase away the flinty chill of deep winter, I felt compelled to make something light and dainty for dinner - especially since the air has warmed and sweetened over the past few days! A flavorful vision of seared scallops, one of my favorite "dainty" foods, and a citrusy, piquant sauce immediately came to mind. My local fine foods grocer has a huge cache of blood oranges right now, so I picked up a few for the sauce cause - it's always a little thrill to slice into a blood orange and see vivid wet crimson, striations of rust and oxblood, when the eyes are primed to expect plain orange.

A small knoll of bitter greens and little ruby-red jewels of pomegranate scattered around the plate completed the scallop scene. It was exactly the kind of delicious and delicate dinner for which I yearned! If you have heavy winter food fatigue as well, you should give this one a go.


Seared Scallops with Blood Orange Sauce and Bitter Greens
Makes 2 servings

*6-8 sea scallops
*Juice of 2 blood oranges (about 2/3 cup)
*1 teaspoon dry sherry
*1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
*2 cups assorted bitter greens (I used rocket, dandelion greens and chicory)
*Seeds from about a quarter of a pomegranate
*Tiny lengthwise snips of a scallion, for garnish
*1 1/2 tablespoons butter + canola oil

Wash and dry your greens and winnow the pomegranate seeds out from within the annals of the fruit, set aside. Rinse and thoroughly pat dry your scallops, making sure to trim the muscle off the sides if need be. Lightly toast the peppercorns until fragrant and grind into a powder in a spice grinder.

Meanwhile, melt the butter with a dribble of canola oil in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high and season the scallops with the pinch of peppercorn dust and kosher salt on each side. When the skillet is hot and the butter has foamed, lay the scallops in and sear on each side for about a minute and a half. Remove to a warm platter, reduce the heat and add the the orange juice, sherry, and the rest of the ground peppercorns to the skillet. Stir, scraping the bottom, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, which will likely happen quickly. Divide the greens and scallops between two plates. Pour the pan sauce through a small sieve and over the scallops, and then scatter some pomegranate seeds around the perimeter. Garnish the scallops with snips of scallion.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Turkey Avocado-Blue Sandwiches with Kale Chips

Perhaps not a La Rochefoucauld-minted maxim, but "Everything Tastes Better with Bacon" is nonetheless a simple, amaranthine truth. Less constant is "Everything Tastes Better with Avocado", but when it comes to sandwiches, the saying is: Absolutely Correct. Biting through the layers of any given sandwich, it is always a pleasure to come across a rich, buttery wealth of avocado. For this particular specimen, instead of simply cutting the avocado into slices I decided to mash the pale green fruit flesh with some blue cheese (Gorgonzola), a delicious combo reminiscent of Nigella Lawson's "Roquamole". I slathered it on the bread as a spread before stacking the bacon, turkey, tomato, Swiss and lettuce. I opted for some verdant kale chips on the side for a tidy noontime meal, but you could just as well serve the sandwich next to a luscious bisque for a quick and hearty dinner.

Turkey Avocado-Blue Sandwiches
Makes 2 Sandwiches

*4 slices of your preferred bread (I'm using a rustic loaf from my local bakery)
*Half an avocado
*Heaping 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese of your choice
*Squeeze of lemon juice
*Romaine lettuce leaves
*4 slices good slab bacon
*6 oz deli-sliced turkey
*2-4 thin slices of tomato
*4 thin slices of a nutty Swiss

Fry bacon until crisp, blot on paper towels. After splitting 'n pitting the avocado, remove the flesh from the jacket and mash with the cheese and a squeeze of lemon until it resembles a thick spread. Lightly toast your bread, and then spread two slices with the avocado-blue cheese mix. Assemble the lettuce, bacon, turkey, tomato and Swiss as well as any other fixings of your choice, and presto, sandwich! I usually wrap the other half of the avocado well in Saran and pop in the fridge for the next day, but you could always mash it up with more cheese, a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of paprika for an excellent quick dip.

You may find my kale chips post here

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Venison Steaks with Blueberry Sauce

One of my best friends is a bird trainer, and routinely hacks down donated deer carcasses for raptor food...however, on occasion, she will casually set aside a nice backstrap or two for me when their freezers runneth over. I am very spoiled by this, and have come to love the subtly feral taste of venison even more than I like the taste of beef. If you can't come by venison from a local source, a reputable online source would be D'artagnan. Of course, you could make this recipe with other meats, but I highly suggest searching out venison. It pairs exceptionally well with a savory fruit sauce, and after trying a few different fruit sauces over time, I think I've concocted something here that I'm going to stick with in the future. The picture may not look like much, especially since I didn't have my new DSLR on hand, but I promise you that the blueberry sauce is delicious. You could skew much classier than I did and serve the venison over something that isn't egg noodles, but I wanted a good catch-all for that sauce!

Venison Steaks with Blueberry Sauce
Serving sizes will vary depending on the size of your backstrap

*1 venison backstrap
*1 tablespoon plus 1/2 tablespoon butter
*1 teaspoon high smoke point oil
*1/3 cup abbey-style ale (Ommegang's Abbey Ale, if you please)
*1 cup beef broth
*1 heaping cup blueberries (I only had frozen on hand)
*1 tablespoon minced shallots
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Take the backstrap out to temper for about 30 minutes before preparation, and then slice it into steaks about 1 1/2 inches thick. In a small saucepan bring the beef stock and blueberries to a boil and reduce down until you have a cup of the stock/blueberry mixture.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and melt a tablespoon of butter drizzled with the oil. When hot, sear the venison steaks 2 1/2-3 minutes on each side, in batches if necessary. 3 minutes and you're verging into medium-rare territory which is the absolute limit - venison will become unpleasantly tough if you cook it past medium-rare. Using tongs, briefly kiss the sides, and then transfer to a warm platter. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the shallots and saute quickly before adding the abbey ale. Deglaze, stirring and scraping up brown bits with a wooden spoon before adding the cup of broth and blueberries. Sprinkle in the thyme and simmer, stirring, until mixture has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and then whisk half a tablespoon of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste. Ladle over the steaks and serve with a salad of dark greens as well as something to mop up the sauce.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Tender, savory orbs of meat nestled in a simple tomato sauce - the basic definition of comfort food. I make these about twice a month, usually whenever I start hankering for a batch of Sunday Gravy. I've been through many, many recipes for meatballs over the years, borrowing what has worked from all those past attemps and dropping what didn't, and this, my current staple recipe, consistantly churns out some damn tasty meatballs. Whether you serve 'em over a hill of spaghetti, sandwiched in a soft sub roll, or on their own, they are sure to please.

This recipe is written and delivered unto you with the assumption that you'll have a wide deep pot of tomato sauce already simmering away on the stove before you start to stick your hands into a bowl of raw meat. Peep the Sunday Gravy post if you'd like a recipe for a good'un.

Makes 9-12 meatballs, depending on size

*1 lb ground beef (I normally use 85-15) 
*A few handfuls of ground pork (somewhere in the area of ...3 oz?)
*1 slice white bread, crusts removed
*1/2 cup milk or cream 
*1 egg, lightly beaten
*1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
*1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
*1/4 cup finely grated Parm-Reg
*1 tablespoon finely grated Romano
*1 tablespoon finely chopped parsely
*A hearty spoonful or two of whatever tomato sauce you're making to accompany the 'balls

In a small dish, soak the bread in milk. Using your hands, mix the ground beef, pork, egg, shallot, garlic, cheeses, parsley, a couple pinches of salt and pepper, and a spoonful or two of the tomato sauce in a large bowl. Squeeze most of the milk from the bread and shred the soggy slice into bitty pieces, folding them into the mix, being careful to not overwork the meat. Wet your hands with water and lightly roll meatballs out to your desired size, then slip them carefully into your simmering sauce. Cook for about 35 minutes, making sure not to disturb for the first 5-10 minutes or so. Serve as you see fit!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Masala Chai

I first stumbled onto the idea of homemade masala chai while reading a post on Design*Sponge; I'd indulged in a chai latte from time to time, but never thought of making my own blend. Ultimately I found I preferred a more heavily spiced version than the recipe offered by D*S, but they definitely provided me with the inspiration and framework. I've become quite addicted to my blend over time, especially during the more frigid months - it is so invigorating to inhale the fragrant steam coming off the liquid, and feel the glowing warmth of the spices with every sip. Make yourself a cuppa, set down with a good book, and enjoy!

Cup and saucer from Rachel Kozlowski

Masala Chai
Makes 2 servings

*2 cups water
*6 crushed cardamom pods
*6 cloves
*1/2 inch cube ginger
*1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
*1 inch piece cinnamon stick
*2 black tea bags
*Steamed milk (optional)

Bring the water, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and ginger to a boil in a pot. Add tea bags and reduce heat to low; simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for another 5-10 minutes. Strain tea, discarding solids. If you want a milky beverage, use a 2-1 chai to milk ratio... I myself prefer the spiced tea alone!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

A tangle of pepper-spangled spaghetti alla carbonara is one of my favorite simple meals - only five basic ingredients and 15 minutes needed to make this light yet lusciously creamy dish. The name is derived from the Italian carbone, charcoal, which the dusting of pepper on top of the dish is meant to evoke. Coal miner's pasta is how it's described in English on occasion, and you can almost imagine a sooty chap setting down to make something easy and robust over a cookstove with some cured meat, eggs taken from out of a kerchief, a hank of dried pasta and a knob of cheese from his pocket, inadvertently shaking off coal debris into the mix as he goes.

Mastering temperature when tempering the eggs is one wants a grainy and ungainly sauce (although in truth I've scrambled my eggs on more than one occasion, and it still comes out tasting delicious). Peas and cream are anathemas here as far as I'm concerned, but if you'd prefer to sub pancetta (or guanciale!) in place of bacon, go right ahead! I prefer the bit of smokiness that good bacon lends to the dish.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Makes 2 servings

*8 oz spaghetti
*3 slices good slab bacon
*1 large organic egg + 1 egg yolk at near-room temperature
*2 tablespoons finely grated Parm-Reg, plus more for serving
*Copious amounts of freshly cracked black pepper

Boil spaghetti until al dente. Meanwhile, fry bacon in a pan and remove the slices when crispy; crumble and set aside (save that sweetsweet bacon fat for another use). In a stainless steel bowl whisk the eggs with 2 tablespoons grated Parm-Reg. Reserve a tablespoon or so of the cooking water before draining the pasta, and then whisk in just a touch of the water with the egg mixture to temper the eggs ever so slightly. Then, add the pasta to the bowl and stir rapidly. Taste, and add a smidge more water if necessary. Throw the bacon in with the pasta, dish out onto plates, and dust liberally with pepper and more grated Parm.