a san francisco treat

A long long time ago, like practically right around the time I started writing this little blog, I posted a recipe about meatballs and a story about music, and how those things tie Chris and I together pretty succinctly. Coincidentally enough, I wrote that post right before we were about to head to California to do a little wine tasting, which is pretty much where we meet in the middle.

He usually picks the music, I pick the food, and we both pick the wine. Love it like that.

But a weekend or so ago, all we had to do was worry about the wine, which was easy because, well, we have a lot of it.

It’s one of those ideas that felt like it should have been something we thought of on our own, but we just aren’t the entrepreneurial type, as it turns out. We are certainly glad someone did. A San Francisco-based couple has a blog they call “Turntable Kitchen” where they pair food with music, and eventually they decided to take it another step and sell a monthly subscription to a dinner with music pairings. They send a record with a couple of songs, a link to a mixed CD they’ve made, and three recipes with a featured ingredient as well.

It’s genius. And again, why didn’t we think of the damn thing?!

For our first month’s dinner, we picked our ingredients on the way home from a hike around Mt Tam. It had been a nice, sunny day and we were ready for taking it easy. We grabbed our goods, grabbed showers, grabbed a bottle of wine from the cooler, and got our music listening/cook on.

For those of you who didn’t know, cioppino is a fish stew that originated in San Francisco. It has a subtle fennel flavor, and is loaded with tomatoes and practically overflowing with any kind of seafood you can imagine and truthfully, you can put whatever you damn well please into it.

It’s the perfect dish for taking it easy – you dump all of the sauce ingredients into the pot and let it simmer, you add your seafood, and you slurp it up over a nice glass or two of white wine. Meanwhile you can have some melt-in-your-mouth burrata on crostini and prepare the components for your dessert. Cioppino night is a laid-back, California type of night.

And the best part? you do it all while hanging out with the one you love – a day spent in the sun and amidst nature, and a night spent together in the kitchen, checking out some California tunes, which if I remember correctly, was a band called “NO”. But again, the music’s his deal, remember?

Cioppino
Adapted from Turntable Kitchen & Bon Appetit, December 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 30 minutes (45 active)

printable version

ingredients
3 T olive oil
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 1/2 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can of fish stock
1 c white wine (we adore Vermentino)
2 bay leaves
1 T fresh oregano
1 T fresh thyme
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (start with 1/2 t each and adjust as you see fit)
12 littleneck clams
12 mussels, cleaned and debearded
1/2 lb halibut, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 lb bay scallops
1 lb large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
sourdough bread, for serving

instructions
Heat oil in a large heavy pot (Dutch oven, if you have it) over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, garlic, and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and juice, fish stock, wine, and spices (through salt). Mix together, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
After the stew has simmered for about 45 minutes, add in the scallops, halibut, and shrimp. Once these start to turn opaque (3 minutes or so), stir in the clams and cover. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the mussels. Cook for 3-4 more minutes. Remove and discard of any clams/mussels that haven’t opened up at that point. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle into 4 bowls and serve with nice crusty sourdough bread to carry that San Francisco treat all the way home.

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.