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.

After the Pie

Man, what a week. I feel like I need another juice cleanse to get back in the swing of eating non-crap. Of course, everything eaten over the past 7 days has been fantastic (and not literally crap..), but as we all know, it adds up pretty quickly.

But that’s what the Holidays are for, right?!

I don’t have many Thanksgiving pictures to share with you all this year, but imagine a smallish San Francisco condo packed with 14 hungry people, and empty bottles of beer, wine, and cava all over the place. Imagine plates of tasty food, from appetizers to the main feast to a table full of fresh made ice cream and 8 pies at the end of the night. And of course, a little bit of Rock Band (though not nearly enough, in my opinion) was certainly part of the fun.

It was a good day, and while there wasn’t nearly as much chillin‘ as we normally like, it was a nice long holiday week/weekend and we were, as Chris would say, über happy to have our favorite people with us for so long. Next year, we’ll do it all over again, except we plan to make the trip to Minnesota this time around, giving up control of hosting duties for the first time in 7 years.

I can’t wait.

Like the two of us, perhaps you’re filling your dinner menu with light items for the next couple of weeks? Have you eaten so much pie, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole that you broke out your fat pants again? If so, another fish recipe will most definitely fit the bill. Surprisingly, I’ve actually done a decent job of keeping up with the early weekday fish tradition, so this is one made a few weeks back.

It’s pretty perfect for Fall, even though a fish dish isn’t normally something I think of during this time of the year. I think it’s the saffron, which seems to invoke all sorts of feelings of richness and decadence. Who knows.

Either way, it’s a pretty easy dish to toss together in under an hour, and it’s all sorts of good for you. It might make you feel better about all that pie, but I’m not making any promises there…

Cod with Tomato Sauce & Fregola
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~50 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper
3 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
5 marjoram sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 orange, in short, thin strips
5 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 c toasted fregola*
Four 4-oz skinless cod fillets
Chopped parsley, for garnish

*fregola is a toasted semolina pasta that looks like Israeli couscous. If you can’t find it, you can easily use arborio rice instead (which is what F&W uses). Also, the fregola isn’t gluten-free, so if you need that you’ll definitely have to sub the rice in.

instructions
In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saffron and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram and season with salt and black pepper. Cook the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened and the liquid is reduced, about 35 minutes. Discard marjoram.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, combine the orange zest strips, bay leaves, cloves, and fregola and cook until the fregola is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the fregola, discarding the zest, bay leaves and cloves. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper.

Nestle the cod in the tomato sauce and cook, turning the fillets once, until just opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the fregola into bowls or plates and top with the cod and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

The Phuket List

So, have you heard? I figure if I’ve heard, then the rest of the more civilized inhabitants of the earth most certainly have: Saturday is a big day for the planet.

Did you know that? Yes, Saturday marks three weeks of living in San Francisco, which is not-so-monumental-but-still-cool. But what I mean to point out is this: the world is coming to an end on Saturday. For realz. Or at least the beginning of the end will occur; whatever you call it.

I haven’t gotten too excited about it, but since I have this awesome drive to and from work everyday I’ve gotten back into my podcast listening, so now I’m more “in the know”, you know. It’s interesting to see how folks respond to these assertions, how some of us are totally nonchalant while others are totally hardcore. This morning I was listening to “Uhh yeah dude” (UYD), which I highly recommend, and rather than making a “bucket list”, they proposed something a little bit different in light of future events: a “fuck-it list”. Because if the world really is coming to an end soon, we may as well say screw it (or “phuket”, to be P.C.) and go balls to the wall.

Are you still with me?

If you are, I thought I’d share my Phuket List with you. It’s short, because I’ve got shit to do, you see.

  1. Survive a concert of “This Will Destroy You!!” at the Independent with Chris. Check. This is the first of a bazillion shows he’s going to drag me to since this venue is a block from home. Thankfully, I’ll like 90% of them; this fell into the other 10%, minus 3 songs.
  2. Eat chicken tartare at Ippuku in Berkeley. Check (see picture here!). Because if I’m not getting taken up into the sky on Saturday (let’s face it, my chances are slim to none) I may as well start eating all the stuff that could potentially kill me, right?! (also, it tasted awesome. not like salmonella at all. but if you don’t hear from me next week, send a search party for the Wetzels.)
  3. Find a way to get from work to home in 1 hour flat. My morning commute is 1 hour flat, but I can’t seem to get home in less than 1 hour and 10 minutes. I have another shortcut to try out, so this is a work in progress. Plus, it might not matter anyway, right?
  4. Bike through Golden Gate Park. Although, if a major earthquake is happening on Saturday, being on a bike probably isn’t the best idea I’ve come up with this week. Maybe I’ll wait until Sunday and see if I’m still around :).
  5. Make a killer ragù. This is on the list for Friday. I think I can get this squared away lickety split.
  6. Oh, and make something that tastes like real Indian food. Check. I could eat this tomato-based curry dish a thousand more times. Despite it being loaded with onions, which isn’t great for say, dates or being romantic, it’s a lovely weeknight dish.

I think that’s a decent amount of stuff, right? I mean, I could put skydiving or bungee jumping on my list, or going to Italy again, but I’m a little low on time here. I’ll have to remember that for next time one of these big predictions surfaces. If there is a next time, that is. We’ll see what happens, and if this is really the end of the world, as we know it. But right now, I feel fine.  

Dhaba Chicken Curry
adapted from Food & Wine, March 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 40 minutes, 25 of which is active

printable version

I don’t make a lot of Indian food at home, but this is one that will certainly get made again. It’s easy, it’s relatively quick, and it is so. damn. good. Make sure your spices are fresh for maximum flavor, and definitely use the cilantro garnish rather than the scallions you see pictured here. I didn’t have any cilantro and wanted to pretty it up, but the scallions were a bit much with all the other oniony goodness the dish had going on already.

ingredients
3 onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 c canola oil
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cardamom
1/4 t turmeric
1 c tomato sauce
Four medium-sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 c water
2 T chopped cilantro
1 c uncooked basmati rice

instructions
In a food processor, chop the onions. Add the garlic and ginger and process until they are finely chopped (and almost watery).

In a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the canola oil. Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and cook over low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion mixture and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the turmeric and tomato sauce and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook rice according to package instructions. Keep warm.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the casserole. Coat the chicken with the sauce. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, turning a few times, until the chicken is white throughout, about 10 minutes. Season the chicken curry with salt. Transfer the cooked rice, chicken and sauce to a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Don’t Eggspect Anything Fancy Here

egg

Ever have those days when, as much as you love cooking, [as evidenced by your uncanny desire to chop veggies, bake bread from scratch, and construct dishes with multiple components] you’d instead prefer to prepare something quick, simple, but utterly scrumptious all the same? I have those days too, although you might not believe me. I do. Promise. Particularly in the midst of finishing the 3rd quarter of culinary school, when I’ve just spent three consecutive nights cooking and baking my butt off (well, I wish – instead I seem to be baking more butt on than off…) in an industrial kitchen until 11 pm. Did I mention I work full time? Yeah, can you say t-i-r-e-d by the time Thursday rolls around? You bet.

croccatini



You see, all these fancy recipes you see in this blog, they’re generally made on the weekends. Now, I’ve definitely made things that I’d consider pretty quick and pain-free, but this one here is one where you’ll wonder if you could even call it cooking. Yup – it’s that easy. Other braggable characteristics? Well let’s see: it’s light but hearty, simple but packed with flavor, vegetarian but complete with protein, and great for dinner but also brunch.

tomato sauce



Did I mention tasty, quick, budget-friendly, and absent of chopping other than a few leaves of basil and grating of cheese? And really, for the reward of cheese, not to mention basil, I’d break out the grater and kitchen shears any day without complaining. Any. Day.

Wait, there’s more. This dish is a staple of Sardinian cuisine, which should already tell you its practically like eating a sliver of heaven. Other than Mussolini and linen man-capris, what else from Italy is questionable? Ex-actly. Apparently the Sardinians have many versions of this dish, but all include 4 major components: eggs, Sardinian music bread (pane carasau), tomatoes, and pecorino Sardo (a cheese made from Sheep’s milk). In Italian, it’s called “Ovos kin Tomate e Casu”. Well, since I neither live in Italy (yes, sad) nor have access to a personal supply of Italian imports (although with Amazon.com anything is possible), I was unable to find the special bread or the exact combination of both pecorino & Sardo, so I made my own variation and as a result, strayed slightly from the key ingredients.

Something tells me they’d still approve.

tomato-poached eggs with croccatini


Tomato-Poached Eggs w/ Croccatini
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, serves 4



As I mentioned, this is a fantastically easy dish that comes together pretty quickly. You can substitute any herbs, cheeses or breads for fun. I’m imagining eggs poached in a pre-made tomato, fennel, and Italian sausage sauce. Or even Mexican-style, with some poblano peppers, queso fresco, and tortilla chips. What about you? What variations can you come up with?

ingredients
2 T EVOO
1/3 c chopped green onion
2 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper
2 1/2 14.5oz cans of whole plum tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped*
4 eggs
4 wedges of croccatini crackers (La Panzanella brand – I used fennel flavored)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Rustico cheese
2 T chopped fresh basil

instructions

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in salt and pepper (couple of pinches), and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Reduce heat to low. Working with one egg at a time, crack each over tomato mixture, about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with another pinch or so of salt and pepper. Cover and cook about 7 minutes (more if you want firm yolks – I like them sorta runny). Remove from heat.
  3. Arrange bread crisps on plate and spoon 1/4 of sauce atop. Top with 1 egg and ~2 T of cheese and 1/4 of the basil.


*I chop the tomatoes in the can with kitchen shears and chop any I missed once they get into the pan. I also chop the basil this way, so this dish is cutting-board-free 🙂