Monday, April 25, 2005

Scallops with Beurre Blanc

Surprisingly simple, yet seemingly gourmet, scallops are not only for company, your Monday night dinner at home is also worthy of their presence. For those of us who do not have access to fresh diver scallops (which get their name from the scuba "divers" who pick them by hand from the sea floor), frozen ones work just fine, making their use in a weeknight dinner more practical. I like Trader Joe's frozen scallops. They are sold in a one pound bag, which should provide four servings, but my husband and I just ate the entire bag. Not wanting to overpower the subtle flavor of the scallops, only to enhance it, I paired these tender morsels with a delicately flavored beurre blanc. It was right on the money, hence there are none left to photograph for this posting-sorry.

Here's the gist of the recipe, I hope you try it.
After rinsing the defrosted scallops under cold water, dry them on paper towels and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium-high heat, add enough olive oil to just coat bottom of pan. When oil is hot, sear the seasoned scallops on both sides then cook until opaque. Remove scallops from pan and add about 1/2 cup white wine (I used Chadonnay) and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to skillet. Reduce on medium-high heat. When wine is reduced and no longer covers entire bottom of pan, shut off heat and add 2 to 3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter 1/2 tablespoon at a time until the sauce is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should taste tangy, but not sour. Additional salt and/or butter will mellow a sour taste, but be careful not to over-salt. Spoon over seared scallops and serve.

We had these with some classic mashed potatoes and bok choy sauteed with garlic and red bell pepper.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Recipe: Homemade Yellow Cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Ganache

Posted by Hello

I will never turn down a fancy dessert made by one of the many renowned pastry chefs in our fair city, but sometimes a plain homemade yellow cupcake is really what I long for, top it with chocolate and I shall want for nothing.

I keep a few cupcake liners on hand for days like today when the craving starts. There's just something about cupcakes vs. regular cake. They bake faster, you don't have to grease a pan, they're portable, you can properly eat them with your fingers, plus, lots of little cakes are just more fun than one big one. But, you can bake the batter however you like, the only mandate I have for this dessert is that it is truly homemade- no mixes allowed. This cupcake tastes like butter and vanilla, like no mix possibly could, and it only takes a few extra minutes to measure out the additional ingredients. With a rich flavor and moist crumb that still has body, the little cakes are not overly light and airy like that from a mix. These can be eaten plain or are a match made in heaven with sweetened strawberries. Or, to end all of your cravings, top them with the rich chocolate ganache.

Yellow Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream sugar and butter with electric hand or stand mixer. Add eggs, milk and vanilla, scraping down the sides of bowl. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in separate bowl, then add to liquids. Mix on low speed until combined, then mix on medium to high speed for 3 minutes.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until it tests done. Cool in pans for 5 minutes and then move to racks and cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Ganache

8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 T. sugar
1 T. light corn syrup
2 T. unsalted butter

Bring heavy cream, sugar and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add chocolate and butter, stirring until melted. If it is too runny to spread, let the mixture cool slightly. Frost cooled cupcakes and enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Birthday Dinner Party: Moroccan Sweet Potato Stew

So today is the day after my birthday dinner party. I think it was a success for the most part, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the food. I utterly enjoy cooking food for my friends, but when you do it on your birthday, the time just flies by and you don't get to savor the day.

It seems that no matter how many dinner parties I throw and no matter how prepared I am, there are still things I screw up on. I almost always make too much food. (I guess I'm afraid to run out.) For our Moroccan-themed menu, I made Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, and lamb stuffed pitas for appetizers and for the main course, we had Moroccan Braised Beef, a double recipe of an already large batch of Sweet Potato Stew, Couscous and a Mango Cucumber Salad. Who would have known that six sweet potatoes would produce so much stew? I had to get out my 12 quart stock pot just to fit it all. I have no idea what I was thinking. My co-workers were pleased however, when I brought a tub 0' stew to work for lunch today. At least it was a lot of a good thing. The vegetables swam in a rich broth that made me forget it was vegetarian. The Moroccan spices were well balanced with a slight heat and a bit of sweetness. It made a great lunch and was probably even better warmed up the next day. If you'd like to try making it, here's the recipe...

Moroccan Sweet Potato Stew

1 T. Olive Oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
3 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can (15 oz.) Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 large can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes with juice

Saute the chopped onion with the olive oil in an 8 quart stock pot until translucent. Add garlic and spices and saute for about 3 minutes. Add vegetable broth and scrape up any bits on bottom of pan. Add sweet potatoes, bell pepper, eggplant, garbanzo beans and tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil. Turn down to medium heat. Cover and simmer for about an hour until sweet potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally .

Sweet Potato or Yam?
One of my co-workers was not enthused by the idea of eating sweet potato stew for lunch until he tried it. All he could think of when I said sweet potato was the orange squash-like Yam smothered in marshmallows as so many misguided souls do at Thanksgiving. In the US, we tend to call yams sweet potatoes and thus we get them confused. Make sure you use the yellow colored sweet potato for this recipe and not the orange yam.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

My Guinea Pig

Sunday is my birthday and I have decided to have friends over for a dinner party. Yes, for 20th time, I am cooking on my birthday!
Planning is key to having a successful event and it is always smart to try out any new dishes beforehand. Thankfully I have a guinea pig (my husband) to test everything I make. As an added bonus, he also does the dishes! It's great to have someone who supports my cooking hobby. Any single cooks out there, pick a mate with an appetite who does dishes and you will forever be happy.

Besides doing dishes, what else makes a great guinea pig? He tells me the truth when the food sucks. Take today for example, the "Dukkah" I read about in the March, '05 issue of Bon Appetit was a bit of a surprise. I thought this nut and spice mixture would be a spotlight addition to the menu for my Moroccan themed dinner party. It wasn't awful, but you have to understand, I imagined everyone clamoring to dip their olive oil soaked bread into this exotic blend of nuts and spices, so I was a little disappointed when my guinea pig said it was "pungent and too strong". (I think it may be an acquired taste) Even though I personally liked the Dukkah, I understood what he meant by pungent, and as interesting and exotic the food may be, what a hostess really wants is for everybody to like it... and let you know it. I am now prepared to serve it forth as originally planned, only to put a disclaimer on this one. It's like wearing sweatpants to the grocery store and expecting no compliments. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. More importantly I now know that this will be a backdrop to another appetizer that will hopefully knock their socks off. More on that another day.

My First Blog

Cooking Chronicles is my first blog, so please be patient while I make this site look pretty. I love to cook and I live in San Francisco, a great city for experimentation in the kitchen. You can find ingredients for any cuisine in our many neighborhoods. In writing this blog, I hope to entertain you with my tales of food and cooking in San Francisco. Check back soon for my first post!