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Showing posts with label spinach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spinach. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on the New York Times Dining. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eggsellent – A One-Egg Omelet That’s All About Flavor

For Zesterdaily last January, I wrote about beginning the new year with an easy-to-make, good tasting dish that is healthy and all about flavor. After making the omelets through out last year, I think it's a great way to begin 2014.


A new year with new resolves for personal improvement is the best of times and the worst of times. At the top of many people’s resolutions is eating sensibly with an asterisk to give up everything that tastes good. To eat well doesn’t mean denying yourself pleasures. In fact, consider the gastronomic advantages of a one-egg omelet.

Three, two, one

A neighborhood restaurant we frequented for many years proudly publicized their three-egg omelet. The omelet was a plump 2-inches thick and settled on the plate like a seal sunning itself on a wave-washed rock.
After eating their three-egg omelet, I always felt like going back to bed.
Having consumed many omelets over many years, the realization hit me that what I like about an omelet isn’t the eggs. What I like is the filling.
At home I experimented. What I was looking for was a ratio of bulk: flavor that pleased my palate and wasn’t overly filling. Three eggs were never considered, and eventually two eggs gave way to one. Another significant milestone was switching from a stainless steel pan to the more forgiving qualities of a nonstick pan.

Thin one-egg omelet is a reminder of delicate crêpes

One egg creates texture not bulk and places the emphasis solidly on the filling. Just about anything sautéed, roasted or grilled can find itself tucked into the confines of an eggy bed.
Whatever the mix of ingredients, the key to a good omelet is creating a warm creaminess of melted cheese.
The combinations are limited only by your palate preferences. The salty-sweetness of sautéed ham, Comte cheese, spinach, shallots and shiitake mushrooms complement the pliancy of the egg. Grilledasparagus and Parmesan cheese, dusted with finely chopped Italian parsley leaves makes an elegant omelet perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Shredded lobster, Manchego cheese, cilantro, raw red onions, a dusting of cayenne and a small amount of finely chopped ripe tomatoes transform an ordinary egg into a culinary adventure.
Adding country-fried potatoes, buttered toast with jam and crisp bacon, a tossed green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit to fill out the plate and the one-egg omelet creates an enviable meal, heavy on flavor and careful about calories.

One-Egg Omelet With Spinach, Comte Cheese, Shallots and Shiitake Mushrooms

Use any cheese of your liking. I prefer a cheese that plays well with others. Strong cheeses, such as blue cheese, will dominate the other flavors in the filling. Mild cheddar, Comte, Manchego and soft goat cheese work well.
The recipe is for one, because making each omelet individually will result in the best looking dish. If you are serving more than one, multiply the number of diners times the ingredient quantities for the filling to create the correct amount needed to make all the omelets.
Use a 9-inch nonstick pan, understanding that nonstick pans are designed to be used on low heat. Because an excessive amount of fat is not required to prevent the egg from sticking to the pan, the butter is used for flavoring. Could the omelet cook on a nonstick pan without the butter? Yes, perhaps as serviceably, but that little bit of butter adds a lot of flavor.
Serves 1
Ingredients
2 teaspoons sweet butter
2 cups spinach leaves and stems, washed, pat dried, chopped
1 shallot, washed, ends and skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup or 2-3 shiitake mushrooms, washed, root ends trimmed, finely sliced longwise
1 farm-fresh egg, large or extra large
1 tablespoon cream, half and half, whole milk or nonfat milk
⅓ cup freshly grated cheese, preferably white cheddar, Comte, Manchego or goat
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Directions
1. In the nonstick pan, melt 1 teaspoon butter and sauté together the spinach, shallot and shiitake mushrooms until wilted and lightly browned. Season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Use a high-heat or Silpat spatula to remove the sauté from the pan and set aside.
2. Beat together the 1 egg and milk until frothy.
3. On a medium-low flame, heat the nonstick pan, melt the remaining teaspoon butter and pour in the egg-milk mixture using the spatula to get every drop into the pan.
4. Swirl the egg mixture around to coat the bottom of the pan so it looks like a full moon.
5. Gently sprinkle the cheese on one half of the omelet — the half moon with the filling –and spoon on the sauté to cover the cheese.
6. When the cheese has melted and the egg is cooked the way you like, use the Silpat spatula to gently flip the empty side of the half moon on top of the filling.
7. Use the Silpat spatula to help slide the omelet onto the plate and serve hot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Waist Watching, Delicious One-Egg Omelet

As with many good things, a cherished recipe resulted from an accident.
My wife wanted an omelet for breakfast and we had only one egg in the refrigerator. That egg was an especially good, farmers' market egg, but it did not have a companion and my wife was used to having a two-egg omelet.

Many solutions came to mind.

Go to the market to buy more. That seemed like too much trouble with a cup of coffee already brewed and waiting on the dining room table next to the Sunday New York Times. Use a lot of milk as "filler." But the resulting omelet would have been more like a custard than what my wife likes, a very firm cooked egg.

So, I did the only thing any guy would do in the circumstances. I punted.

If I was short an egg, well, I'd compensate with a lot more filling, hoping my wife would be distracted by all the goodies so she wouldn't notice the paucity of "egg."

Her favorite filling consisted of sautéed spinach, shiitake mushrooms, shallots and Comte cheese. Low and behold, as my mother would have said, what appeared to be a limitation became an asset.

Using one egg created an omelet that shared many qualities with the French crepe. The omelet was thin, crispy along the edges and, most importantly, had traded bulk for flavor.

Voila!

My wife loved her one-egg omelet so much, the dish is now a standard feature of our Sunday morning brunch. For Zesterdaily I wrote up the recipe and a more complete description.

Please take a look and let me know what you think: Eggsellent - A One-Egg Omelet That's All About Flavor.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sexy, Seared Scallops Help Say Goodbye to 2012 and Hello to 2013

Cooking long hours is fun on Thanksgiving but on New Year's Eve nobody wants to be in the kitchen except to pass through on the way to the freezer to refill the ice bucket.
The perfect at-home meal on New Year's Eve is one that has pazazz, great flavor and doesn't take long to prepare.

With expectations high, everything about a New Year's Eve party needs to be special
Take-out deli sandwiches are fine to watch the weekly football game. Pizza and beer works for a Netflix festival of Tarantino movies. But for the night when you say goodbye to a whole year's experience and celebrate what's-hoped-for in the coming 365 days, it isn't enough to simply put food on the table.

If you're having a small gathering of friends and loved ones, easy-to-make scallops are an elegantly delicious way to tell everyone how much you love sharing this end-of-the-year evening with them.

Experimenting with samples of Alaskan seafood sent to me by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, I have been happily trying out different techniques with their halibut, cod, king crab legs and salmon.

The Alaskan scallops, caught off the Kodiak coast, were beautifully plump and firm. The size of fifty cent coins, since they were thick, they could hold up to the high heat of searing.
Scallops play well with others
Because scallops have a delicate flavor, they work well with buttery, sautéed spinach and earthy shiitake mushrooms. They are also good sliced and sautéd before being tossed with pasta in a sauce of roasted tomato sauce and garlic.

With dense flesh, scallops mimic the hearty flavor of steak so they can be seared whole with thick cut onion rings.
Scallops go well with a crisp, chilled white wine, an icy cold beer or, my favorite,  a perfect Manhattan. Whatever beverage accompanies your scallops, you can toast all that was good about 2012 and all that you hope for in 2013.

Seared Scallops on a Bed of Sautéed Spinach and Shiitake Mushrooms

As with any seared dish, obtaining the best quality ingredients is an essential starting point. Whether you are searing fish, shellfish, poultry or meat, high heat creates a blush of caramelized sweetness on the outside. After that, the dish is all about what's on the inside.
Key to searing is using a pan that can tolerate high heat. Stainless steel pans should not be used because too much work is required to clean them.

A cast iron pan or one designed specially for high heat cooking is preferred and can be found in restaurant supply stores like Surfas in Culver City. To prepare this dish, I used the French de Buyer carbon steel frying pan which is designed to be used at very high heat with only a small amount of oil.

Serves 4

Ingredients

16 large scallops, washed, pat dried
1 bunch spinach, root ends removed, washed in clean water, dried
4 shallots, ends and outer skin removed, cut into rings
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, root ends trimmed of any dirt, thin sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Cut off the spinach stems, finely chop and sauté  in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon olive, the shallots, garlic and mushrooms until lightly browned. Roughly chop the spinach leaves and add to the sauté. Cook until wilted and set aside. The vegetable sauté can be prepared ahead.

In a bowl, season 1 tablespoon olive oil with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add scallops. Toss well to coat. Set aside.

Place a cast iron or carbon steel frying pan on high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the scallops in the hot pan. Do not crowd the scallops. If they are too close together, they will steam rather than sear.

Using tongs, turn the scallops so all sides are lightly browned. When each scallop is cooked, place on paper towels to absorb excess fat.

Reheat the sautéed spinach and place on a serving platter. Arrange the scallops on top.

Serve hot with a cold beverage.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Another 30 Minute Meal: Ginger-Soy Black Cod

Black cod cooked in a ginger-soy poaching liquid is a deceptively simple dish that cooks up quickly and has deeply satisfying flavors. Popularized by the Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, his complicated recipe can be simplified with excellent results.

The fish can be served with steamed rice and simply braised or sauteed vegetables like spinach with garlic and shiitake mushrooms.

Ginger-Soy Poached Black Cod

The ginger-soy poaching liquid can be reused several times.

After the fish has been cooked and all solids removed, the liquid can be kept in the freezer in an air-tight container for several months.

When you want a quick meal, defrost the poaching liquid, simmer, add the black cod pieces, cover, and you'll have a meal on the table in 10 minutes.

Yield 4 servings

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds black cod fillets, washed, pat dried
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
2 cups sake
2" piece of ginger, peeled, julienned

Method

Carefully inspect the fillets for bones. There will probably be a row in the middle of the fillet.

Using a sharp knife, slice along the bones and remove in a long strip. Don't throw out the strip because it can be marinated in olive oil, sea salt, and pepper and roasted in the oven or grilled on a bbq. Have the bones as a cook's treat.

Cut the fillets into rectangles 1 1/2" x 2" for easier handling.

In an uncovered large pan or dutch oven, create the poaching liquid by simmering together the sugar, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and ginger for 10 minutes. Add the black cod pieces, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

Remove the cod with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve 2 cups of the poaching liquid, straining and pouring the remainder into a sealed container and freeze.

Return the cod and 2 cups of poaching liquid to the pan, reduce and thicken over high heat, spooning the thickening sauce over the cod, about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately with steamed rice or sauteed garlic spinach with shiitake mushrooms.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Spinach Salad For a Change of Pace

As much as I enjoy arugula, red leaf, and romaine salads, there are times when I need a change. At the farmers' markets these days there is a good supply of regular spinach and the Bloomsdale or heirloom variety, the one with the crinkly leaves.

The nutty flavor and sturdy leaf structure of spinach invites the addition of flavors. So many ingredients go well with spinach. Personally, I like scallions, tomatoes, avocado, olives, grilled corn, and carrots go well with spinach. If you're ok with meat, add crisp bacon, chopped hard boiled eggs, grilled shrimp, sliced chicken breast, or julienned ham.

Any favorite salad dressing will do. We tend to like a simple dressing of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. The dressing can also be heated to create a wilted spinach salad.

Spinach Salad

Because all the grit has to be removed, spinach is a little more work to clean than arugula or lettuce. If the spinach leaves are still connected to their roots, cut off the root ends while the leaves are tied together. Separate the leaves and put them into the sink with a lot of water. Shake the leaves and remove to a colander. If you want, double rinse by spraying the leaves while they're in the colander.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 large bunches spinach, washed thoroughly, stems removed
2 scallions, trimmed, finely chopped
1 carrot, washed, trimmed, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds
1 avocado, washed, peeled, roughly cut
10 cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
4 brown mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grilled corn kernels
1 tablespoon roasted almonds, hazelnuts, or pine nuts, roughly chopped (optional)
1/2 cup croutons (optional)
2 eggs, hard boiled, finely chopped (optional)
4 pieces bacon, crisp, finely chopped (optional)
10 grilled shrimp, washed, peeled, deveined (optional)
4 slices chicken breast, grilled or sauteed (optional)
1/4 cup julienned ham (optional)
Olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced to 1 tablespoon
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the salad in a large salad bowl. Tear the large leaves into bite sized pieces. Leave the small leaves whole. Add whatever toppings you like. Make the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar dressing or use whatever dressing you like and serve as a salad course or as a main course.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Father to Son: A Dinner Menu

I enjoy cooking so much, I was happy when my older son Frank asked if I could help him plan a dinner he was going to cook for a friend.

The best meal is one that starts with great ingredients, which means shopping at farmers' markets and specialty shops. Supermarkets are fine for household supplies but only a few--like Gelson's, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Fairway Market, Canyon Market--carry quality produce and meat.

Since Frank will be in San Francisco for the weekend, I suggest he and his friend go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Saturday morning. Located on the Embarcadero at Market, he'll find premium vegetables, fruits, cheeses, olives, freshly baked breads, desserts, and flowers. The market is open from 8:00am until 2:00pm. If they go early they'll avoid the lunch-time crowds.

While they walk around the market enjoying the cool breezes off the Bay, they can pick up snacks from Hog Island Oyster Company, a muffin from the Downtown Bakery, or sample cheeses from Andante Dairy. The market is definitely an eat-as-you-shop kind of place.

Because I know Frank won't want to spend more time in the kitchen than necessary, the menu I'm suggesting relies on quick-and-easy techniques. And since I know he understands the importance of cleaning as he cooks--a meal is so much more pleasurable if the kitchen is clean when the cooking is finished--I've tried to minimize the number of pots and pans required.

Appetizers

Serve a plate of 2-3 cheeses, ones that contrast with each other. A Triple Cream (soft) for example and a Comte (firm). Tasting cheeses at the market is a good way to find the ones you like. Olives, fresh fruit, a baguette, and wine all go well with a cheese.

Putting together the appetizer plate will take only a few minutes. Frank and his friend can snack on the appetizers while he prepares dinner.

Salad

For a salad something simple: fresh arugula tossed with crushed roasted hazelnuts and dressed with olive oil and reduced balsamic dressing, seasoned with a little sea salt and pepper.

Or a tomato and avocado salad with a touch of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Yield 2 servings
Time 15 minutes

Ziti or penne takes about 10 minutes to cook in salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. A cup of the pasta water is a key ingredient. When the pasta is strained, put a heat-proof container under the strainer and capture a cup of pasta water.

Ingredients

1/2 box of De Cecco pasta (ziti or penne)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, thinly sliced longitudinally)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (unsalted)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup pasta water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt for the pasta water
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Boil 4 quarts of water with the Kosher salt, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Cook until al dente. Strain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In a frying pan, sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and parsley until lightly browned, add the butter and pasta water and simmer, reducing the liquid by half, then add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Variations

Add to the sauté, quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped up spinach leaves.

Sauté fresh corn kernels ( 1/4 cup) and shallots (1 tablespoon) with the mushrooms and parsley.

Chicken Fillets with Parsley-Bacon Topping

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes

Buy either chicken tenders--which are pricey--or skinless, boneless breasts and cut them the long way so each breast makes two 1/2" thick fillets.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts (washed, cut into 1/2" thick fillets) or 4 chicken tenders (washed)
2 slices of bacon (finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Season the breasts with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan and sauté the bacon and parsley on a low flame. Use a fork to break up the pieces and cook until lightly browned. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil into the frying pan and season with sea salt and pepper. Get the pan hot on a medium flame. Add the chicken. The fillets cook quickly because they are thin. Lightly brown on each side.

Top with the sautéd bacon-parsley bits and garnish with chopped avocado on the side.

Salt Steamed Broccoli or Spinach

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes (broccoli) or 5 minutes (spinach)

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli or spinach
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil

Method

Wash the broccoli and cut off the florets. If you're using spinach, wash well to get rid of the grit, remove the stems and discard. Put a steamer in a pot, add the water and salt, bring to a boil, add the broccoli florets or spinach, and cover. Steam the broccoli for 10 minutes or the spinach for 5 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the chicken.

Dessert

Good fruit is available now at the farmers' market: cherries, apricots, early grapes, pluots, cantaloupe, and lots of berries. A plate of fresh fruit and a small cake from the farmers' market would make a delicious dessert. Or, with very little effort, baked pluots and apricots, coupled with ice cream or yogurt, make a beautiful finish to a meal.

Baked Pluots and Apricots

Yield 2 servings
Time
30 minutes

Ingredients

2 apricots
2 pluots or plums (washed, cut in half, pits removed)
Raw sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the halved apricots and pluots on a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, dust with raw sugar, and bake for 30 minutes until softened.

Serve with ice cream or yogurt.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wilted Spinach Salad Takes Center Stage

Everyone has an all-purpose dish that can be modified in clever ways by changing a few key ingredients. For my mother, it was the casserole. For me it’s usually pasta but on those nights when my wife wants to “go green” I turn to an old stand-by: a wilted spinach salad.

Versatile spinach works cold in a salad or heated by sautéing or boiling. A hot dressing brings spinach to a middle ground: mostly raw with some leaves wilted from the heat of the dressing. Sautéing the dressing allows for a great variety of ingredients: Italian sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, shrimp, bacon, chicken, duck, chicken livers, or purely vegetarian. As far as I can tell just about any pizza topping would work on a wilted spinach salad, excepting maybe pineapple.

I invite everyone to send in suggestions. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this infinitely variable dish.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Avocado, and Olives
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 large bunch spinach, the root ends trimmed and discarded, thoroughly washed to remove the grit
2 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
6 mushrooms (brown or shiitake), washed, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into rounds 1/4" thick
2 shallots, peeled, cut into thin rounds
12 shrimp, medium sized, washed, deveined, sliced in half (optional)
12 olives (oil cured black, green split, or Castelvetrano green), pitted, quartered
1 small avocado, peeled, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons feta, crumbled (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Remove the stems from the spinach. Put the leaves into a large salad bowl. Finely chop the stems. To make the hot dressing put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a sauté pan on a medium flame and lightly brown the spinach stems, garlic, bacon, mushrooms, carrot rounds, and shallots. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small sauce pan reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. In a separate sauté pan drizzled with olive oil, cook the shrimps until pink about 2 minutes, then set aside.

When you’re just about to serve the salad, reheat the dressing on a medium flame. Add the rest of the olive oil, olives, and avocado.

Using a rubber spatula pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar. Top with the shrimp, croutons and if you want the feta. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

The hot dressing can be kept vegetarian by using olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Most vegetables can be added to the sauté: zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, English peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, or tomatoes. Try tofu or vegetarian patties as well.

A riff on a chef salad, in the dressing sauté baked ham and turkey breast with shallots; add cheese (cheddar or Swiss) and chopped tomatoes when you toss the salad.

Borrowing from the classic frisee salad, use bacon or lardoons crisped in the sauté, topping the salad with a fried egg. A variation on a variation: instead of a fried egg, use a hard boiled egg, sliced or chopped.

Sauté 1/4" rounds of Italian sausage with slices of red pepper, onion, and garlic to make a wilted salad version of a sausage hero.

Grilled or sautéed chicken livers with mushrooms, onions, and lots of garlic.

Add several anchovies and a dusting of pepper flakes to the onion-garlic sauté.

For the meat use slices of roast duck or chicken (dark meat preferably since it has more flavor); put shiitake mushrooms in the sauté.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on Bitten. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Bivalves

Farmers’ markets aren’t only for produce. Flowers, eggs, cheese, milk, poultry, and fish are available as well. And for the past several months at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Carlsbad Aquafarms has been selling live shellfish: mussels, oysters, clams, abalone, and scallops.

The mussels, oysters, and clams sit in ice-filled tubs while the abalone and scallops come to market in thick plastic bags filled with a mix of sea water and oxygen. Since Carlsbad Aquafarm arrived at the market, I've become a regular customer. This week Robb, who is a chef as well as one of the proprietors of the aquafarm, gave me a dozen Catalina Oysters and a bag of the Calico Scallops to try. I've had the oysters before but the scallops...that was something else. I hadn't prepared a scallop that was alive and still in its shell.

Scallops on a Bacon-Spinach Sauté

Dealing with live scallops for the first time I needed to do research, which meant turning to the internet. What we know as the "scallop" is in fact the adductor muscle that holds the two shells together. Surrounding the muscle in both the male and female scallop is the roe. Although I enjoy roe, most people find the flavor gamy. A sharp paring knife easily removes the thin membrane that secures the roe to the muscle.

Carlsbad Aquafarm doesn't raise the over-sized scallops served in Chinese restaurants. Their Calico scallops are petite. To be appreciated these sweet morsels need to be surrounded with contrasting flavors and textures. Although the scallops take a bit of work and are pricey, I made them for Michelle as an appetizer and they were delicious, truly special.

6 scallops
1 cup spinach, washed, dried, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Wash the scallops and put on a hot grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. As they open they'll release their juices. Capture as much of the liquid as you can. Let cool, then twist off one of the shells and discard. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the scallop from the shell and carefully cut off the membrane and roe. Put the scallop back in its shell, add a pat of butter, and put them into a small frying pan on a low flame. Cook the scallops for 5 minutes in the butter, then set aside. In a frying pan drizzle olive oil, add the scallop liquid, and sauté the bacon, garlic, shallots, and spinach until lightly browned. The sauté will be crispy and sweet, the perfect contrast for the delicate scallops.

Put the sauté on the bottom of the shell and on top of the scallop. The scallops should be eaten warm. Use a cocktail fork or eat them off the shell. I much prefer the latter. That way you won't miss any of the sauté and the scallop's sweet juices.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Oysters Breaded with Bacon and Parsley

I ate some of the oysters raw on the half shell with a bit of lemon juice and cocktail sauce. Delicious. For the rest I wanted to have them breaded. I've talked about that before. This time I wanted to make a small adjustment to the breading by adding crisp bacon. The bacon added a layer of flavor and upped the crunch-factor.

Shuck the oysters, reserving their nectar to use in an oyster stew. The oysters can be served either on lettuce with avocado slices or on a baguette with homemade tartar sauce.

12 oysters, shucked
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably homemade, unseasoned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 slices crisp bacon
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and bacon in a small food mill, pulse until thoroughly combined, and put on a plate. Drizzle olive oil on a second plate and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Over a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge each oyster first through the seasoned olive oil, then through the bread crumbs to coat. Sauté the oysters until lightly browned. Serve warm with tartar sauce either on a baguette or on lettuce with avocado.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

If you want to try Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish, they're at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesdays. They have been going to some of the other local farmers' markets as well. If you send them an email, they'll let you know their schedule: info@carlsbadaquafarm.com

Friday, March 7, 2008

Plate Envy: Il Fornaio Gives It Away

Restaurants live or die on their repeat business. To bring their customers back again and again, some rely on exceptional food and personalized service, others try affordable prices and a pleasant setting. Il Fornaio adds another element to the equation.

For two weeks each month, all 21 branches of Il Fornaio ("The Baker") feature recipes from a different region of Italy: Fruiuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Puglia, Liguria, Abruzzo, Scilia.... The dishes illustrate that region's distinctive ingredients and cooking styles. Nothing can compare with actually going to Italy and having a great meal, but when we want a delicious, affordable Italian dinner, it's great to be able to visit the nearby Il Fornaio in Santa Monica. The restaurant is devoted to all things Italian. Not only are the meals an effort to give you the experience of dining in Italy, each month you'll receive a uniquely Italian gift.

Pick up a "Passaporto" during the Festa Regionale and you'll be given a gift: packages of cannellini beans or hand-made pasta, arrabiatta spices, specialty olive oils, balsamic vinegar, loaves of bread, calendars, olive bowls, and, my personal favorite, dinner plates.

Have your Passaporto stamped each month and on the sixth visit, you'll take home a dinner plate, hand-painted with a distinctive image of Italian life.
For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Il Fornaio Serves Up a Recession Busting Tasting Menu - Piemonte
I am obsessed about those plates. Something about them makes me so happy. To make certain we'll get the new ones, we go to the restaurant every month. So far, we have more than 60 and are several Passaporto away from being completely out of shelf space.

The plates are great, but so are the gifts that help us practice cooking Italian meals at home. Last month we were given packages of fagioli cannellini with a Tuscan recipe by Il Fornaio's Executive Chef Maurizio Mazzon. I added roasted tomatoes and spinach to his Fagioli All'Uccelletta recipe.

Cannellini Beans with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach

If you want to serve cannellini beans, you have to plan ahead. Before they can be cooked, they have to be soaked overnight. Cooking takes time as well, so this is a great weekend project. Since they keep well in the refrigerator, the beans can be quickly reheated for a weekday meal and served with a grilled chicken breast, steak, or tuna fillet.

Yield 6-8 servings

Time soak beans overnight, 2 hours to cook

Ingredients

2 cups cannellini beans
½ celery stalk, washed
½ onion, peeled, washed
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 carrot, washed, peeled
18-20 sage leaves, washed, torn into pieces
5 tomatoes, washed
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly, stems removed, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Method

Soak the beans overnight with 5 cups of water. Drain. In a large pot, put the beans and 10 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, the celery, onion, 2 whole garlic cloves, and the carrot. Cook on a low flame for 1 hour or until the beans are al dente. Drain, but this time save the water. Discard the vegetables.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the stems out of the tomatoes, put them on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat sheet or a piece of tin foil, sprinkle sliced garlic on top, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 1 hour. Let cool. Put the tomatoes in a bowl. Take off the skins and discard. Tear the tomatoes into small pieces. Set aside.

In the large pot, sauté 2 finely chopped garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly browned, add the sage and sauté for a few seconds, then add the roasted tomatoes with their juice, the cooked cannellini beans, the chopped spinach, and 5 cups of the reserved water. Bring to a low boil and cook for 30-45 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Serve with a grilled or roasted meat.

For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio