Still Memorable

One year ago, I was sitting in a small corporate apartment in Cupertino, California, scanning Craigslist for a home in San Francisco. My husband had been here for two months already, having landed his dream job. The cats were here and getting settled, enjoying a little more sunlight than what was typical for Chicago this time of the year. Things were changing much more quickly than we had intended, that’s for sure.

But all that being said, I was so excited I couldn’t stand it. It was that “pee in your pants kind of excited” – know what I mean?! And one year later, I know for sure it was the best decision ever.

I think I knew that the second he accepted his job. I think I knew the year before that we could live in California. And ironically enough, after reading back through a past trip to wine country, I laughed at the fact that I’d suggested it then. Clearly, this was all meant to be.

And don’t get me wrong – I love North Carolina and I love Chicago. But this is home now. Sure, there have been adjustments made along the way. We’re outdoors more, we commute longer, we spend more money on wine, and we never ever worry about snow. We also miss many folks who are now even farther away, including our family. We see them all less than we’d like, but we try to make up for it in phone calls and internet face time and email. It’s not the same, but it is a good effort, and we get by with it.

This pudding is similar in that respect. It is a somewhat last-minute adjustment. I’d planned on making a roasted banana pudding for dessert this past Valentines day, but as per usual Whole Foods seemed to only carry ultra unripened ‘naners. So instead of making lackluster ‘naner puddin’, I picked up some strawberries instead, since they seem to always be in season out here. Hopefully they’ll be coming to a market near you soon, too.

With a couple of necessary changes, the puddin’ turned out to be pretty awesome, maybe even better than what I’d planned, when it came down to it. It’s a good example of how not going off of what’s written on paper worked – how taking a chance paid off in the end. And now, it’s not the same as hopping off to California, but it’s still memorable nonetheless.

Basil Balsamic Strawberry Pudding
inspired by Cooking Light; serves 4

time commitment: 2 hours (1 hour is for chilling the pudding)

printable version

ingredients
1.5 lbs fresh strawberries, cut into thin slices
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 c skim milk
1/3 c sugar, divided
1/4 c basil, whole
1 T arrowroot powder or cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/2 T butter
1 t vanilla extract
6 oz frozen whipped topping, thawed
18 vanilla wafers, divided

instructions
pre-heat oven to 350.

Place strawberries on a sheet pan and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely.

Combine milk and 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer (do not boil). Add basil.

Combine remaining 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, and eggs in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk. Gradually add hot milk mixture (removing basil beforehand) to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return milk mixture to pan. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add half of the cooled strawberries, butter, and vanilla, stirring until butter melts. Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until mixture comes to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Fold half of whipped topping into pudding.

Spread 1/8 of the custard into the bottom of four single serving dishes or glasses. Top each with 2 vanilla wafers and distribute half of the remaining strawberries on top. Spoon the rest of the custard into the dishes over strawberries. Repeat procedure with 2 more wafers in each dish followed by the remaining strawberries. Distribute the remaining half of whipped topping evenly over the top of each. Crush remaining 2 wafers; sprinkle over top. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled.

Just the Two of Us

In almost 3 years of blogging, there are a lot of recipes around these parts. And among all the ones seafood-centric, not a one of them involves scallops.

This is going to change that, and majorly.

Chris and I usually do like everyone else and head out to a restaurant for Valentine’s day, whereby all the wait and cook staff forced to work that night provide somewhat lackluster food at dilated prices. It never stops us though – and it’s not like we go to restaurants we’ve been eyeing for years, or places we’ve never been to – we go to the same places we’d go any other weekend. That said, it seems just as reasonable to stay home and just be together, saving the tasting menus and parking hassles for another night.

So we did this year. I mean, at least this year Chris wasn’t about to hop on a plane and move to California without me for two months, right?! So there was certainly plenty to celebrate – a March and April free of selling a condo, shipping our belongings across the country, tempering territorial cats, living out of a suitcase, and apartment-shopping. Instead, months of continuing to settle in and absolutely adore everything different about this year was something definitely in need of appreciating.

So I decided it was well past time to make scallops. I picked up a half dozen oysters, too. We hung out in the kitchen together – me searing scallops and making this amazing lemongrass-tomato sauce, and Chris shucking oysters and putting together a nice, spicy mignonette to eat them with. We even ate at the dining room table like civilized folk. Or do civilized folk eat on the floor in front of the TV, desperately trying to catch up on episodes of Castle or CSI? Because if that’s the case, then we are ultra-civilized. I can’t decide…

Either way, I enjoyed the way things turned out that night. I enjoyed being home, a little music in the background, not having to worry at all that the cooks would serve me raw pork chop (V-day 2009) or that someone would propose in a super cheesy way nearby (V-day 2004) or that we’d be drunk and stumbling home in the cold (V-day 2011). We just ate together, the two of us.

And this dinner was freaking awesome, to boot.

Seared Scallops in Lemongrass-Tomato Sauce
adapted from Self Magazine, 2008 via Epicurious; serves 2 

this recipe was originally slated for 8, probably as an appetizer. I pared it down and made it for 2, but you’ll still have leftover sauce. it would go great on any seafood or even on pasta, so don’t throw it out!

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 T canola oil, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, dry leaves removed, stems pounded; cut into 3-inch lengths*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 red Thai bird chiles, finely chopped*
1 c dry white wine
1 can (14 ounce) whole tomatoes, plus juice
1/4 c Thai basil
1/4 c fresh mint
1/4 c cilantro sprigs
1/2 c baby arugula
Juice from 1/2 lime
10 jumbo sea scallops

*lemongrass and Thai chiles can be found abundantly in Asian markets (Thai chiles are sometimes in their freezer section) or in well-stocked grocery stores, like some good-sized Whole Foods.

instructions
Heat 1 t canola oil in a large, nonstick pan over low heat. Cook onion with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon grass, garlic and chiles. Add wine. Raise heat to high, then simmer 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice; break apart tomatoes. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove lemongrass and discard; puree the rest in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Meanwhile, toss basil through arugula together in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk lime juice and 2 t oil together, then add to salad and sit aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick pan over high heat 1 minute; add 1/2 T oil. Cook 5 scallops 1 minute; reduce heat to medium-high; cook undisturbed until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn scallops over; cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Repeat with remaining 1/2 T oil and 5 scallops. Divide scallops and sauce and serve with salad.