Saturday, January 26, 2013

zesting up winter

What better than a little zestiness to brighten up the COLDEST WEEK IN THE HISTORY OF WEEKS EVER!? Okay, so maybe that's not exactly true...but it was definitely close.  We've been blessed with a not-so-cold winter thus far, so a chill was bound to happen.  Hitting the teens and "real-feel" singular/negative temperatures definitely did not bode well on most of the population, to say the least.  Except maybe people that had snow days...or "cold" days.  I didn't even know that was a thing!  

Regardless, it's been a while since I've had scallops...and the scallops at the market were looking mighty fine! Freshly shucked - sadly not in the shell still - but I quickly got over that.  Scallops and a nice head of cauliflower.  What to do?! With me new Vitamix giving me longing looks on the counter, I knew I had to make a cauliflower puree - which is probably one of the simplest sides to make ever - RIDICULOUSLY healthy, and crazily easy.  So why not pair the two together?  The following recipe is a quick change from the usual scallop flavor combination, but definitely does not disappoint.  I served it at a recent dinner party, and everyone raved (and was sad there weren't more scallops!).  As much as it may sound fancy, it's super easy to make.  Give it a try and impress your friends!

Seared Scallops with Lime Gastrique and Cauliflower Textures
Serves 2
6 diver scallops, shucked
1/2 cup cauliflower puree
1/4 cup roasted cauliflower florets
Lime gastrique

Lime Zest 

Cauliflower Puree & Roasted Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
Olive oil
White pepper

Before you get to steaming, make your roasted florets. Break up a couple of florets into mini florets for roasting and as a garnish for the final dish.  Preheat the oven to 400F, toss the mini (micro?) florets with an ample amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast until dark brown and crispy.  

Now, onto the puree! This puree recipe is not a lie.  Cauliflower. Fire. Water.  The cauliflower needs to be steamed, so utilize whatever stove top item you have, whether its a bamboo steamer or regular steamer insert.  If you must, the cauliflower can be boiled.  Bring a couple cups worth of water to a boil, making sure that the water isn't touching the bottom of the steamer.  When it has come to a boil, lower the heat to an aggressive simmer, and place the florets into the steamer.  Cook until tender! Time will vary depending on the size of your florets - so taste occasionally, starting after about 5 or 6 minutes.  When tender, remove from heat and toss into a blender or food processor.  Pulse the florets, and slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the steaming liquid into the blender.  Continue to add the water until the puree has a smooth, velvety texture, about the consistency of a vichyssoise.  That's probably a horrible example - the consistency of the best, creamiest mashed potatoes you've ever had!  Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.  Don't forget to keep an eye on your roasting cauliflower!

Lime Gastrique
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

Gastriques are easy, but it sounds fancy and difficult, right? Fortunately, that is not the case! A gastrique is basically a sugar/vinegar reduction that can be flavored any way you like.  Lime was my juice this time around! A gastrique also can be made by caramelizing the sugar first, adding a few more steps, but this process is a lot easier! Place all of your ingredients to a boil, stir, lower the heat to a simmer, and let reduce until it has reached a thick, syrupy consistency, about 10-12 minutes. The sauce should be drizzle-able - not too thin, but not so thick that its globby. Remove from heat, place in another container and set aside.

To finish the dish, get ready to sear your scallops! Warm up the cauliflower puree, and have all of the other components ready to go.  First, make sure that the foot/adductor muscle of the scallop is removed.  It looks like an extra piece of meat about the size of a thick quarter on the side of each scallop - just pull it off with your fingers.  Salt and pepper both sides of your scallop.  Preheat a large saute pan over high heat until super hot! Add olive oil or grapeseed oil (make sure if you use olive oil that it doesn't smoke).  When the oil is shimmering, add in the scallops, being sure not to overcrowd them.  Cook the scallops until golden brown on each side, about a minute and a half.  Remove from heat onto a paper towel.

On a plate, spoon out about 1/4 cup of cauliflower puree as a base.  Place three scallops on each plate, however you like - stacked, in a line, you name it.  Scatter roasted micro florets around each plate, and finish with a solid, hefty drizzle of lime gastrique.  Beware, this lime gastrique is DELICIOUS. Finish by zesting a lime over the scallops.  Dig in!

As I said before, this is a pleaser all around! You get all of the textures and flavor profiles you need in this dish - velvety, crunchy, sweet,'s all there.  The puree is absolutely addicting, and I suggest making it whenever you're bored (naturally).  If you are lucky enough to have a super-powered blender like a Vitamix, you'll get a light, airy, super velvety texture that is hard to beat! It tastes like there's butter and cream in the mix, but alas, there is none.  This combined with the sweetness of the scallops, and the golden crunch action of roasted cauliflower gets the party started.  Honestly, you could stop here and the dish would still be undeniably great - but why stop when you can take it to the next level? The gastrique and fresh lime zest brighten this dish up like a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds on an overcast day.  Seriously.  Not to mention, the aroma given off by the fresh lime zest when the plate is put down gets you ready for the party that is about to occur in your mouth.   My new favorite trifecta: scallops, cauliflower, and lime.  Whip it up!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pomegranate Party!

How is it already 2013? I don't know about you, but 2012 flew by.  Lots of milestone events, plenty of good times, and a whole lot of excitement, that's for sure! I hope it was the same for all of you! I decided to kick off the New Year with a recipe using one of winter's most beloved (or hated?) fruits.  The pomegranate.  I really forgot how obnoxious it is to get the seeds out of this fruit! Whoever the first man was to eat the seeds from a pomegranate, I commend you.  Pomegranate seeds are great - crunchy because of the seed inside, but with a nice pop like caviar.  The flavor is sweet, but also a bit tart.  Not to mention, it's garnet hue is stunning! So what to do? Obviously it can be used on salads and with various vegetables to play up their sweetness, but I really wanted to play up the tartness within the seeds.  With that, I decided to put it together with a great pickled mustard seed vinaigrette and a light fish.  The combination is fabulous, and only get's better to the last bite! 

Whole Roasted Dorado
Serves 4
2 whole dorado, cleaned
1 red onion, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400F.  While the oven is heating up, prepare your dorado.  You can use branzino, or any other flaky, white fleshed fish for this recipe.  Also, if you can't find whole fish, feel free to use fillets - just adjust the timing! Season the inside and outside of the fish with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  On a medium baking sheet or roasting pan, scatter 1/2 of the red onions on the bottom.  Toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt.  Place the fish on top, and scatter the remainder of red onions inside and atop the fish.  Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your fish. If you're using whole fish, you'll know the fish is ready when you can easily pull the dorsal fin out.

Gently remove the skin of the fish, and filet each side.  Be sure to remove any of the brown flesh (the blood line) as it has a pretty bitter taste.

Green Beans with Pickled Mustard Seed Vinaigrette
1 lb green beans, stem end cut off
Reserved vinaigrette (see recipe below)

While the fish is cooking (near the end of the cooking time) begin working on the green beans.  In a large stockpot, bring enough water to substantially cover the green beans to a boil.  Add in a generous amount of salt, and toss in the green beans.  Allow to cook until JUST tender, about seven minutes or so, and drain.  Toss with the reserved vinaigrette, starting with just half, and adding more as necessary - some people like less, some like more, so it's up to you!

 Pickled Mustard Seeds
1/4 cup mustard seeds
3/4 c rice wine vinegar/champagne vinegar
1/3 c water
1 T sugar
Pinch salt

In a small sauce pan, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Stir, lower to a simmer, and cook over low heat for about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pomegranate Mustard Seed Vinaigrette
1/3 cup olive oil
2 T pickled mustard seed vinegar
1 T pickled mustard seeds
2 T pomegranate seeds
Fresh ground pepper

Sidebar: Pomegranate seeds.  My girl Marty Stewart always said the best way to get the seeds out is to half it and smack it against a plate or something, but that is just a mess.  Just let it be know that you will be making a mess no matter what you do with your pomegranate, so be sure to wear all black.  This will stain, whether or not you've scotch guarded your life. I found it easiest to just get in there and pop the seeds of with my fingers, kind of inverting the flesh to make it easier.  Don't get too frustrated, it's worth the work!
In a jar, combine all ingredients and shake to emulsify. Season to taste and set aside.

Whole Roasted Dorade with Pomegranate & Pickled Mustard Seed Green Beans
4 dorade filets
Prepared green beans
Flat leaf parsley, picked
Pomegranate seeds
Saba, or aged balsamic

To plate,  divide the green beans evenly among four plates, ensuring that each gets a good amount of pomegranate and mustard seeds from the vinaigrette.  Add a few roasted red onions from the fish roasting pan to the plate.  Place one filet atop each pile of green beans and season with a pinch of salt and a quick grind of pepper.  If there is any leftover vinaigrette, spoon a bit over each fillet.  Finish with a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds, a few parsley leaves, and a quick drizzle of saba or aged balsamic, if you have it! 

Not only is this a beautiful dish to look at (thank you pomegranate seeds), but the flavors are wonderful as well! Dorade is a very mild fish, but the flavors combined definitely do not overpower it.  Green beans always go well with a nice vinaigrette, but the combination of pickled mustard seeds and pomegranate seeds really make this dish a showstopper.   There's an amazing crunch, a perfect acidity, and a nice sweetness that comes through.  The best bite is definitely the last, when all the flavors have melded together, and the fish has gotten a chance to essentially soak up the vinaigrette.  Lovely!