Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Recipe for a Delicious Day

I’m sure by now you’ve all had it up to here with Valentine’s stuff, but I was away for the weekend and you’re going to have to deal with one more. It's been almost a week, after all. The intellectual part of me is insulted by the whole idea of Valentine’s Day - that executive bigwigs think I will fall into their commercial trap - but there is a part of me that cannot resist the romanticism of the whole thing. Any day that gives me a reason to cook a wonderful meal with the person I love is okay in my book, after all.

The whole idea of eating out in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day doesn’t much appeal to me. I don’t get the point of ordering from an over-priced, shortened menu on an evening when every restaurant is overcrowded when you can create a wonderful meal on your own, share in the experience of actually making a meal and eat at your own pace, especially when that meal can be consumed looking out over your boyfriend’s balcony to this view:

Cooking a meal together is the kind of thing that sounds great in theory – romantic and involved with an end product that you know will just taste better because you’ve made it together. Last year when we attempted the “togetherness” cooking, it turned out to be nothing more than an ideal. He helped me peel potatoes for a gratin and I asked him to put the lobsters in the pot of boiling water so I didn’t have to feel personally responsible for their death. Outside of that though, I rebuffed his offers to help and the meal, while no less lovely, was not truly a meal created by both of us.

This time, however, things were different. We truly did cook together. And you know what? It really did taste better. He seared the scallops perfectly; creating a gorgeous crust that so graciously complemented the barely-cooked middle. The risotto was lovingly stirred and attended to by each of us throughout its cooking time. We stood together and rolled and sealed dumplings – it was all just really, really fun. And it was that much more enjoyable, knowing that the meal tasted as great as it did because we both played our role creating something indulgent and wonderful.

Recipe for a Delicious Day

Dinner usually is not usually prepared for an occasion, and for many reasons usually doesn’t result in more than just one course. But when there’s an occasion, there’s a reason for a first course and a dessert – and for ingredients you might not be inclined to buy on just any normal weeknight.

We started with fresh mozzarella accompanied by both fresh and lightly roasted cherry tomatoes. I just tossed the tomatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper and threw them into a 375 degree oven until they just popped. I cut one end off of a couple of cloves of garlic and poured some olive oil over them and they went along for the ride with the tomatoes until they were softened. Some fresh ground pepper, a bit of salt, olive oil and vinegar and our first course was done – simple, elegant and delicious.

I had tried to work with a request for something “exotic” for the main course. After throwing ideas back and forth, we settled on a recipe for sea scallops with risotto. Not really exotic, but also not something I would usually splurge for, both in terms of time and money.

Seared Sea Scallops with Wild Mushroom Risotto
Adapted from Tyler Florence

1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound assorted mushrooms, such as Portobello, crimini, and shiitake, stemmed
Leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaves
1 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
4-6 cups canned chicken stock, heated and kept warm in a pot on the stove
1 tablespoons butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Parsley, for garnish

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 - 1 pound sea scallops (depending on how hungry you are), crescent-shaped muscles removed and discarded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Over medium heat in a large, deep skillet (we used a saucepot and it worked fine), drizzle in about one and a half to two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until soft. Toss in the mushrooms and herbs and cook until the mushrooms lose their liquid and are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir 2 minutes to coat with the oil; the grains will turn opaque. Season again with salt and pepper. Stir in the wine and cook about 1 minute to reduce.

Add 1 cup of the warm stock and stir until the rice has absorbed mostly all of the liquid. Add another cup of stock and stir until pretty much all absorbed. Repeat this process, one cup at a time until the risotto is slightly firm yet creamy, at which point it is done. Note that you might not need all of the broth. When the risotto is cooked, fold in the butter and cheese until combined.

Toward the end of the risotto’s cooking time, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper and sear until well browned on both sides – about 2-3 minutes.

Spoon the risotto into bowls and top with scallops. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Strawberry Dumplings with Poppy Seed Crust
Adapted from Delicious Days, June 30, 2007

Now we’re not big dessert people, him even less so than me, but I had been eyeing these strawberry dumplings for a few weeks, and, if nothing else, Valentine’s Day gave me the reason to make them.

The original recipe calls for squeezed poppy seeds, which I couldn’t find. We tried to crush them for a while, but the seeds just wouldn’t grind down at all. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I would suggest not covering the entire dumpling with the seeds, since the taste and the texture are overwhelming.

The original recipe also calls for curd, which is something not really found in the states. However, internet research led me to quark, which apparently is the same thing. It’s not the most common of cheese products, but I found some in Whole Foods made by the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company.

The dumplings were pretty good, though I’m sure I could use a bit more practice in the business of quark-based dough.

112.5g all-purpose flour plus more for kneading
A pinch of salt
22.5 g white sugar
1 large egg
22.5 g butter
Zest of 1 lemon
225g quark
11-12 mid-sized fresh strawberries
Sugar for filling
Poppyseeds for coating (ground if available)
Confectioner’s sugar

Wash and hull strawberries and allow to dry on a paper towel. Cut each strawberry in half.

In a big bowl cream together flour, salt, sugar, egg, butter, lemon zest and curd. (You will be left with a smooth but sticky dough. Cover dough and let rest for at least half an hour.

Knead in some more flour a couple of tablespoons at a time until the dough doesn’t stick to your fingers any more and you can work with it easily. Be sure to add only as much flour as you really need to keep the dough from sticking, since less flour will lead to a lighter dough.

Knead dough briefly, roll into a log and cut it in 10 to 12 equally sized slices. Slightly flour your hands and form each slice into a little disc. Place two strawberry halves on top of each disc and top with a pinch of sugar. Wrap the strawberry with the dough and pinch together to form a neat little dumpling. Double check to make sure that the strawberries are completely covered by the dough in order to guarantee that the juices stay inside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and carefully slip the dumplings into the water one at a time. Stir once to make sure the dumplings don’t stick. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 to 12 minutes until they are done (they should begin to float). When cooked, remove with a skimmer.

Roll the dumplings in a bowl filled with poppy seeds until evenly covered. Dust dumplings with some confectioner’s sugar, drizzle with hot, just melted butter and enjoy. The butter might seem a bit unnecessary, but it really makes all the difference.

Makes 10-12 dumplings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You guys are adorable. Scallops and risotto look really good. I also like the festive color coordination in the appetizer and dessert. So sorry I missed you guys when you were in NY. Soon enough though...