Sunday, August 2, 2015

Quinoa Avocado Salad

To accommodate vacations, weekend getaways and other general frolicking, Dinner Club seems to have taken an spontaneous sabbatical.  This is not that unusual given our schedules that seem to become even more challenging during the get-me-out-of-dodge summer months.

I have exciting news to share…I bought a house at the shore, Ocean City, NJ (a long-awaited item on my bucket list!).  It’s not big. It’s not fancy.  But it’s mine.  What this means, however, is that adorable pair of shoes I saw in Anthropologie won’t be walking on these feet anytime soon and that oh-so-charming vintage-stye dress from ModCloth, well, I’ll be wearing vintage circa 2010-2014 already hanging in my closet.  I don’t mind, really, because now I have something that I can and will happily share with family and friends that will be the joyful hub for many, many wonderful memories.

Also out of the budget is going out to eat which is fine with me because I and my brigade can prepare a meal better than most restaurants anyway…except for Lago in the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  I had the best red wine risotto there, plus the waiters were straight off the boat from Italy and so damn handsome.  I was in heaven (so were my travel colleagues although I don’t think they would admit it as freely me). 

So, when friends came to visit this week, we opted to eat in.  K, a native New-Englander (she’s the one who worked for The Barefoot Contessa and knows Martha) taught us how to properly cook and eat lobster.  She said, and I quote “you have to twist the tail off with conviction." Very Julia Childesque.  The instructions continued….use a heavy life to crush the claw in half to liberate the meat; knuckles contain the sweetest meat so twist the claw, poke your finger though and pull out the meat; there are some wonderful little jewels in the body if you are willing to work for them; serve with melted, salted butter and lemon wedges.  Younger daughter and K got the lobsters at Mike’s Seafood in Sea Isle and they were delicious

The next day, K, our friend D and I strolled along Asbury Avenue in OCNJ…we came upon a farmers market and bought scallops for our dinner that evening and some fixings for the Quiona Salad recipe I share below.  We also bought chocolate-covered blueberries, roasted red peppers and the most delicious corn and cilantro Sicilian-style pizza….it was delectable!
D, who is a sales rep, donated some very nice — and useful — product samples, including a Sparq Soapstone Appetizer Tray on which you can serve hot or cold foods.  She also brought some homemade pesto that we happily consumed mixed linguine and served as a side for the scallops that were lightly fried and served with lemon wedges.

Later that day, we headed to the beach where we saw the preparations of a life-guard competition…very cool!  My favorite time on the beach is between 3:30 and 6:30….it cools down a bit and is very peaceful!  

We meandered on the boardwalk the next morning…it was a wonderful visit with dear ones!

My friend V. who runs wine education events that you can read about here, shared this recipe from Wegmans with me last year.  I’ve prepared it several times and, of course, made some additions and substitutions.  It’s quite tasty and great for a quick lunch or as a side salad with grilled meat or fish.   At 140 calories (a little more since I add nuts), 0 cholesterol, 3 g of fiber, 3 g of protein and low sodium per 2/3 cup serving, it’s also good for you!

Red Quiona & Avocado Salad
Adapted from Wegmans

1 box (7 oz) Red Quinoa, cooked per package directions, cooled
1 small can Shoepeg corn or a cup of frozen shoe peg corn
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced on the bias (about 1 cup)
2 plum tomatoes, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup) (we used fresh Jersey tomatoes, of course!)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing (Wegmans is good, so if Briannas)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper


Add cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes, garlic and nuts to mixing bowl; stir to combine. Fold in avocado and dressing; season with salt and pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Wedding Day

Since both Older Daughter and new Son-in-Law work at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it seemed only fitting to post this on the 4th of July!

Back in early 2014, Older Daughter’s boyfriend asked me if he could marry her.  Of course, I said yes (actually, I screeched with delight) and in May of 2014 the happy couple became engaged.
Thus began a year of planning, tastings, shopping, fittings, some anxiety but mostly sheer happiness as we eagerly waited for the wonderful day to arrive.

We did the things that a bride-to-be and her mother do.  We purchased bridal magazines and, much to our delight, we both dog-eared the same dress in the same magazine we each purchased separately.  It’s a a lovely dress, from a designer in London, Ellis Bridal, and the search began for a bridal shop in the United States that carried the collection.  We found one in Sewell, NJ, The Bridal Manor and after trying on two or three other dresses from the same designer, Older Daughter chose the very gown we each swooned over in the magazine.
While in London this past Fall, I purchased a small hair comb for her to wear on her wedding day, a replica of a crown jewel, determined that Older Daughter would bring some bling to the day….she did, with the comb and her Kate Spade shoe choice!  Just beautiful.
I’d like to say that we toured several reception facilities but we didn’t….we considered a few but looked at only one — The Mansion at Ridley Creek State Park — and we knew it was just the perfect enchanting, magical spot for this special day.

A story about the caterer…..back in 2013 when I working with NorthEast Boston Terrier Rescue, a lovely woman named Liz, visited for the required home inspection.  As we got talking, I learned she owned a catering company.  I was delighted to see that her company, Sage Catering, was on the approved caterer list at Ridley Creek….a perfect choice. Below are our selections from the tasting!
In April, 2015, we threw Older Daughter a very special, themed bridal shower based around the movie, “That Thing You Do.” You can read about the shower here.
Then there was the Beachlorette Party….a gaggle of girls rented a Sea Isle shore house for the weekend.  Somehow they all survived!
The day finally arrived, June 12, 2015.  For a year, we prayed for a rain-free day, but we forget to include low humidity in the divine request. It was perhaps the hottest, most humid day of 2015 to date, but, nonetheless, it was lovely.   A very dear friend of our family is the Mayor of Swarthmore, and the couple asked him to officiate their ceremony.  A choice made even more special by the little stories sprinkled among his celebratory, light-hearted and sincere words, including a reference to a pink Barbie Ferrari! The vows, written by the bride and groom, were both humorous and heartfelt.  It was wonderful.

The stunning bride glowed, the handsome groom was simply gleeful and the proud parents beamed with pride! All of these moments captured quite beautifully by the photographer, Amy Tucker (and a very talented amateur photographer at love, kate photography). The venue was picture-perfect, quaint and quite charming and the food was outstanding….one choice, the top sirloin, was cooked to perfection!!

The fabric of the Mother-of-the-Bride dress is Marimekko and was made by the talented Emily of Compendium Boutique in Swarthmore.  The bridesmaids dresses are JCrew and the groom and groomsmen wore suits from Men’s Warehouse.

Everyone dined, danced, drank and prattled the night away and it could not have been more perfect.  

The couple honeymooned in London.  My daughter has always been fascinated with all things English (I am amazed at the information that just rolls-off-her-tongue about the Royals, British history, literature, and regalia in general) so a honeymoon is London seemed quite proper.  Cheerio!
Friday evening, June 12, 2015 was one of the most joyful days of my life, second only to the births of my two beautiful daughters.  When a beloved daughter gets married, sometimes pictures tell the story far better than words and I hope you enjoy this photo journey!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Tomato Shrimp Scampi

So, I think my fellow dinner mates have renewed confidence in my ability to prepare an edible meal following the Fish & Chips debacle, which, of course, you didn’t read about but I told you about in my Fish Taco post.

We should admit our mistakes, right?  

But, let’s redirect our attention to scampi.  Not just any scampi but one of the easiest, most delicious recipes I’ve ever made.  I never made scampi before this recipe -- which I have made many times -- so I can't comment on how it compares to alternatives, both in terms of ease and time, although Martha Stewart's garlicky, lemony version looks scrumptious and also easy to make.

A friend from Delaware, with whom I used to work and who also likes to cook, gave me this recipe that she clipped several years ago from a magazine advertisement peddling cooking wine and RealLemon juice.  Whenever I make this dish, I also conjure up a wonderful memory...she and I would routinely share and try each other’s gems, including one for Blue Goose Cake which is a wonderful coffee-chocolate confection with a buttercream icing.  I don’t know who is originally responsible for this amazing cake recipe but I suspect it's from one of the many cafe, coffee houses or restaurants with the same moniker!  I'll make it and post the recipe this summer.  

I miss working with her every day.

Anyway, scampi are actually small lobster-like crustaceans, fished in the Mediterranean, that Italians traditionally prepare by sautéing in butter, wine, lemon, olive oil and garlic, garnished with parsley.  Lidia Bastianich tells us that when Americans began to make the dish, they substituted more readily-available shrimp but kept the scampi name (so I guess the recipe name is a bit redundant!).  

Most scampi recipes include the usual ingredients noted, but this recipe adds tomatoes.  I, of course, substitute a nice crisp white wine (typically a Sauvignon Blanc) for the cooking wine and freshly squeezed lemon juice for the RealLemon called for in the original recipe.  I use a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead of fresh plum tomatoes but I sometimes supplement with some fresh plums, particularly if they are in season and full of flavor.  You can’t beat the sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes and, since they come in a can already chopped, they are too convenient not to use. 

As this NYTimes article supports, scampi preparation is open to interpretation and I like this interpretation…very much! 

Dinner mates seemed to like it as well.

Faith restored.

Tomato Shrimp Scampi
Adapted from a recipe in an old advertisement

8 ounces of fettuccine
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (this is better than minced because you get little garlic bits with each forkful!) 
1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, diced
3 fresh plum tomatoes, dices (but only if sweet and in season!)
1/2 cup crisp, dry white wine or vermouth
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
4 scallions, sliced
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinses and patted dry (I use frozen in a bag)
4 tablespoons of basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Parsley to garnish

Cook the fettuccine until al dente.  Sauté garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for two minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook for a five minutes.  Add wine, lemon juice and sugar and simmer for few minutes more.  Add scallions, shrimp and red pepper flakes and cook until shrimp turn pink, about 3-5 minutes.  Stir in basil and parmesan cheese and immediately toss with cooked fettuccine.  Garnish with fresh parsley and serve!
This dish is delicious with a nice red wine and some crusty bread.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fish Tacos

A few turns ago when it was my turn to cook, I decided to make Fish & Chips.

What’s that you say?  You don’t recall reading about Fish & Chips?  Well, there is a good reason for that.  
It was a colossal disaster.  Apparently, you can’t bake a batter that’s meant to be fried.  For as skilled as I am with the culinary arts, that little detail evaded me.  Now I know and I will never make that mistake again. 

It appears, however, that C. was aware of this technicality because she made Fish Tacos her last turn and the batter-dipped pieces of cod not only presented beautifully, but were delicious.

We won't discuss how my attempt presented.

People in Mexico have been eating fish tacos for a very long time.  Shells, made from crushed corn and slathered with a bean paste, served as a craft for the catch of the day that was fried in cast-iron skillets over an open fire. The coastal delicacy traveled north to Baja, California around 45 years ago.  Americans gussied-up the experience to include shredded slaw, a mayonnaise-based spread, salsa and a spritz of fresh lime.  The pure simplicity of this dish, served at many roadside stands along the Baja coast and in restaurants and food trucks everywhere now, is eclipsed by the flavor punch it packs.  

Perfect Fish Tacos

2 pounds skinless red snapper or other mild white fish fillets
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups club soda
Vegetable oil (for frying; about 8 cups)

To Assemble
16–32 small corn tortillas
Cabbage and Jicama Slaw
Fresno Chile Hot Sauce , for serving;
Sliced avocado, cilantro leaves with tender stems, Sliced pickled jalapeños, and lime wedges for serving

Remove any pin bones from fish fillets. Cut each fillet in half lengthwise. Cut each half on a diagonal into 1" strips. Work with the natural shape of the fish as you cut; this will help the pieces stay together instead of falling apart when frying.

Whisk all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in club soda until no lumps remain; adjust with more club soda or rice flour as needed to make it the consistency of thin pancake batter.

Fit a large pot with a deep-fry thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2". Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.

Working in batches of 5–7 pieces at a time, coat fish in batter, letting excess drip off, then carefully place in oil (to avoid splattering, lower fish into oil pointing away from you). If you overcrowd the pot, the oil temperature will drop dramatically and the fish may stick together.
Fry fish, turning occasionally with a fish spatula or slotted spoon and maintaining oil temperature at 350°, until crust is puffed, crisp, and golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet; season immediately with salt.

While fish is frying, use tongs to heat tortillas one at a time directly over a gas burner, moving them often, until lightly charred and puffed in spots, about 1 minute per side.

Transfer to a plate; cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Top tortillas with fish, slaw, hot sauce, avocado, cilantro, and pickled jalapeños. Serve with lime wedges.

As you can see from the photo, we enjoyed a lovely Malbec from Argentina with our little fried gems.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts

My first visit to Italy was a culinary tour.  I was — and still am — intoxicated by the glorious country with its magnificent mountains, lush countryside, playful piazzas, and grand churches and structures.  During our trip, I was excited to visit the Italian equivalent of American mom-and-pop stores, offering the best in meats, produce, bread, oils and sweets and then prepare and enjoy a meal, complete, with an afternoon glass of wine, with my wonderful travel mates.  You can read about my first Italian adventure here.

Did you know that spaghetti with meatballs generally do not appear on menus in most restaurants in Italy?  You can get them separately, but you would get the pasta first, as the primi and polpette (meatballs) next as a secondo. If you order them together you will most certainly blow your cover as an American tourist!

One of my favorite books ever is Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  The author travels to different parts of the world in a quest for peacefulness following a difficult separation and never-ending divorce proceedings.  The Eat part refers to her mission of pure pleasure….eating her way across Italy with “no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal.”  

Sounds like an ideal plan to me

Anyway, in the book, Ms. Gilbert’s first meal in Italy is Pasta Carbonara, devoured at a little trattoria in Rome.  Traditionally, Carbonara is made with bacon, peas, garlic and eggs tossed with a long pasta, like spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine.  When we had dinner at M.’s house, she chose to make a version using pancetta and Brussels sprouts tossed with little pockets of pasta called orecchiette, meaning small ear.

The recipe calls for separating the leaves of the spouts (a loving but laborious task!), but M. used the shredded Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s...she's so smart...and efficient.  She also infused the olive oil with garlic because everything is better with garlic.  The reviews from the original article say that the key to this dish is getting a good crispy char on the spouts….this helps balance the rich and wonderfully-salty pancetta sauce.  Other than the the pasta and sprouts substitution, this Carbonara is made exactly the same as its customary counterpart, but I have to say, our crew loved the substantialness of the orecchiette and the subtle, sweet notes of the sprouts paired beautifully with the pancetta!

Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Spouts
By:  Philip Krajeck, Bon Appetit Magazine
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, leaves separated (see note above)
12 ounces fresh orecchiette or other fresh or dried small pasta
Kosher salt
2 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated Pecorino plus more
2 large egg yolks, beaten to blend

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Working in batches, add Brussels sprout leaves and cook, tossing occasionally, until charred in spots and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (about 5 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until slightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Add pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately add 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to keep pasta from burning; reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a thick, glossy sauce forms.

Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat. Add Pecorino; toss to combine. Remove from heat; mix in egg yolks. Add reserved Brussels sprout leaves; toss, adding pasta cooking liquid (or hot water) as needed to thin sauce.  Serve pasta topped with more Pecorino.