January 29, 2012

Scallop Basil Fettuccini - a beautiful thing

Simple is gorgeous, and this pasta really is very simple. The flavour of the sauce is uncomplicated and lovely, with subtle anise and basil playing off each other over a background of creamy goodness. It is perfect without trying.

As with everything you cook, I would encourage you to taste as you do so and adjust seasonings to your taste. I don't like a lot of salt in my food, so you may need to add more. Also, I highly recommend making your own pasta. Homemade pasta is a completely different product from the dry boxed pasta that is so common. If, however, you don't have time to make your own pasta, use a whole-grain boxed variety, which is also very good.


Fettuccini noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (I used all-purpose, although if you have can get farino di grano tenero tipo 00, use that)
  • 3 jumbo eggs

Method
  1. Place the flour in a medium bowl; make a well in the center.
  2. Break the eggs into the well; stir with a fork.
  3. Continue working the flour into the eggs until it forms a firm dough. The dough should be firm and smooth; not wet, nor crumbly. If it is too dry to form a firm, smooth ball, add a teaspoon of water.
  4. Knead the dough for ten minutes on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be firm, but not hard. It should hold an indent when poked with your thumb, then gradually spring back. If the dough seems too soft or is sticky, knead in a bit more flour.
  5. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll the dough into a size and shape appropriate for your pasta rolling/cutting machine, or roll out with a rolling pin until it is very thin then cut into strips with a knife. Place the cut pasta on a clean towel to dry for a few minutes. You will only need half of the noodles for this recipe, so you can store the rest by wrapping it in plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge where it will remain good for 3 days.
  7. Boil the noodles for 3-4 minutes.

Sauce
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup white wine or champagne
  • 1/3 cup light cream (half-and-half)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch of anise seeds
  • 5 large leaves of fresh basil
  • 6 large sea scallops (~3/4 pound)

Method
  1. Melt the butter in a frypan. Add the onion, garlic, and anise seeds. Saute until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Add the wine to the onions; heat only until hot. Remove from heat; set aside for two minutes.
  3. Using a blender or a small food processor, blend the cream/onion sauce until it is smooth. Set aside.
  4. In a clean frypan, heat 1 tbsp of butter. When the butter is melted and pan is very hot, add the scallops. Do not crowd the scallops as they will stew in the juices they release, rather than sear. Cook the scallops without disturbing them until a caramel colour forms on the underside (This is called searing. Usually caramelly sticky stuff will also form in the bottom of the pan which will be a good indication of what is going on underneath the scallops. If you are not sure if the scallops are getting a nice caramel colour underneath, you you may peek under one). When the scallops are seared, flip to cook the other side. Again, do not move them around in the pan.
  5. When the scallops are cooked, place between two hot plates to keep warm while you de-glaze the scallop fry pan with the wine/onion sauce over medium heat. (Don't skip this step as the caramelly stuff in the bottom of the fry pan adds lots of flavour to the sauce!)
  6. After de-glazing the frypan, add the cream to the hot wine sauce. Heat until steamy, but not allow the sauce to boil after adding the cream.
  7. Cut the fresh basil into thin strips.
  8. Add the sauce to the cooked noodles along with the basil. Stir. Plate; top with the seared scallops.

This seems like a long recipe but it really is quite simple. After making the noodles, it will take only about 15 minutes to make the sauce and boil the noodles. Timing, is, however, the key as you will have a lot of things going on all at once for that 15 minutes. First, get the water boiling for the pasta. Then, saute the onions and add the wine, and blend. Then, sear the scallops. When the scallops are finished searing, immediately put the noodles in the boiling water, and finish the sauce with the cream (be sure to taste the sauce at this point to see if it is salted to your liking). By the time you are finished the sauce, the noodles will be done and the scallops should still be hot. Plate, and serve!

Serves 2.

Om nom nom!

5:00

January 15, 2012

West Country Apple Cake

Sunday morning sunshine is different from the sunshine of the other days of the week. It is softer and warmer and seems to linger a little longer when streaming through the window onto the kitchen table. This morning I woke before the sun and busied myself in my kitchen, peeling apples, sifting, combining, and stirring. After I had placed my cake in the oven, I watched the sunrise as I walked to the corner store to get the Sunday paper. The cold chill of wintery air forced me to pull my scarf up around my ears and shove my hands deep in my pockets. When I returned, my warm little house was filled with the aroma of baking apples and spices, and the sun was shining at low angles through my windows. It was lovely.

Make some country apple cake, have a good cup of coffee, do the Sunday crossword puzzle, and enjoy the sunshine. It is days like this that make life good, isn't it?


Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 large apples (use an heirloom variety if you can find them)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • scant 1/4 tsp each ground allspice, cloves, nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

Method
  1. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Peel and core the apples. Slice into wedges that are about 1/2" thick.
  3. Sprinkle the apples with the lemon juice; stir to coat the apples.
  4. Add to the apples the raisins, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and cornstarch. Stir. Set aside.
  5. In a small mixing bowl combine the flour and baking powder. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter cubes into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  6. Stir the brown sugar into the flour mixture.
  7. Add the egg and milk to the flour mixture and stir to make a sticky dough. There may be small lumps of butter in the dough, but that is ok. The texture of the dough should be like a veryyy soft, lumpy cookie dough; not like a smooth cake batter. Divide the dough into two equal parts.
  8. Spread half of the dough evenly in the bottom of the cake pan. Cover this bottom layer of dough with the apple mixture. Use the remaining dough to cover the top of the apples. It is ok if there are apples peeking through the top layer of dough. It is often prettier if it isn't perfect!
  9. Place cake in preheated oven. Bake for 55 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

Om nom nom!! :)

5:00

January 11, 2012

French onion soup

When I cook, I am rarely thinking about only the ingredients in front of me. Rather, I contemplate who might have made this recipe before me and where its origins lie. Onion soup, like most soups, is peasant food born in the countryside; the food of the poor. Onions have always been inexpensive and easy to grow. This soup is the epitome of simple, country food that could have been easily prepared on a hob in front of a fire. As I slice and stir, I think about all of the women before me who have filled their modest homes with the aroma of sauteing onions, and fed their smiling families bowls full of tasty homemade goodness.

This is what good food is.


Ingredients
  • 5 cups of thinly sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 42 ounces of beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • pinch of pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 8 ounces grated comte or gruyere cheese
  • 6 slices of french bread, sliced on the diagonal

Method
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat; add the garlic and sliced onions and saute until they are transparent and tender.
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the onions; continue sauteing until the onions caramelise (turn a deep golden colour), which may take up to 30 minutes. Having a thick, caramely bit of sludge form in spots on the bottom of the pan is desirable. When it happens, scrape it off and stir it into the onions, then let it form again. Repeat a few times.
  3. After the onions caramelise, add the brandy to deglaze the pan.
  4. Add the beef broth, bay leaves, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then gently simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
  5. Place the soup in serving size oven-safe bowls. Top each with a slice of bread, then cover the bread with the grated cheese
  6. Place the bowls under the broiler for approximately 3 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and begins to turn golden in spots.
  7. Serve while cheese is hot and bubbly.

This soup has a strong enough flavour to stand up to a nice beer. I enjoyed it with a South Shore Brewery Nut Brown Ale. It was perfect...and I imagine a few hundred years ago, it was likely the beverage consumed along side this meal.

Nom nom nom!

5:00

January 9, 2012

Sea salt caramels

Every Valentine's Day, I give something homemade to the special guy I am seeing. It is never terribly expensive, and never over the top; just something that says, "I was thinking about you". In years past, I have made brownies, painted a coffee mug, and made cards - some of which looked like they were made by a three year old as I never seem to know when to put the glue down! haha I hope my last boyfriend destroyed the evidence of my crafting retardation. So this year there will be no card; instead, I am making sea salt caramels.

Making your own candy always elicits praise and adoration disproportionate to the effort you put into it, and that's not a bad thing. So whip up these delicious, chewy caramels, give them to the one you love, and bask in adoration reserved for candy making gods or godesses.


Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/8 cup corn syrup
  • 3/8 cup water
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping tsp butter
  • sea salt for sprinkling on top of caramels

Method
  1. Line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine cream, butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until just barely boiling. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan (3-4 quart, tall sides), combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat until boiling, stirring often.
  4. Continue boiling the sugar mixture without stirring; instead, occasionaly lift and swirl the pot. Boil until the sugar mixture is caramel colour. Be sure to constantly watch the pot as once the syrup begins changing colour, it changes quickly and you do not want it to get too dark as it will taste burnt.
  5. When the sugar mixture is a nice caramel colour, pour the cream mixture into the sugar mixture while stirring constantly. Use caution as the caramel will foam up.
  6. Continue boiling the caramel until it reaches precisely 250f. The second it reaches 250f, remove the pan from heat. This is important as a couple of degrees when candy making means the difference between crunchy caramel and nice chewy caramel.
  7. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan.
  8. After the caramel has been allowed to fully cool, remove it from the pan and cut into pieces. (I used a small heart shaped cookie cutter)
  9. In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and 1 heaping teaspoon of butter. Microwave on high 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each cycle, until the chocolate is melted.
  10. Dip the caramel pieces in the melted chocolate. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet to allow the chocolate to set.
  11. After approximately 20 minutes, when the chocolate has begun to set, sprinkle one of the chocolate covered caramels with a few grains of sea salt. If the salt turns transparent, let the chocolate set a bit longer. You want the salt to stick to the chocolate, but not dissolve in the chocolate. When the salt sticks, but does not dissolve, continue sprinkling all of the caramels
  12. Wrap each caramel in a square of wax paper.

Tip: For $2.99 I bought a small, stainless steel box at Michael's craft store, which I then lined with parchment paper. You could also use rafia to attach a gift tag and to tie the tin as you would with a ribbon.
Enjoy! :D

January 6, 2012

Cranberry Chutney and Baked Brie

The invisible wind violently shakes the windows in their frames, and the trees, with each scrape of their bending bows, threaten to peel off the roof. I scurry about my little home, preheating the oven to bake the brie, zesting an orange and toasting walnuts to make a meal of savory goodness. It is a good night to stay in.
On nights like tonight, when the world seems inky black and foreboding, I imagine that all of the little mice of the world are hiding in their warm little dens, and owls are snuggled together in their tree stumps, and people are at home in front of their fires, sipping good wine, and eating brie with chutney.

Cranberry Chutney
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • zest of 1/2 of a large naval orange
  • juice of 1 large naval orange
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp fennel
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • pinch of celery seeds
  • pinch of salt

Method:
  1. In a small sauce pan melt the butter then saute the onion until transparent.
  2. Add all other ingredients to the sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Simmer until cranberries burst and a jam-like sauce begins to form.
  3. Serve warm with a small wheel (6 ounces) of brie that has been baked for 15 minutes in a 300f oven.

I enjoyed this with a reasonably priced and super yummy bottle of 337 cabernet sauvignon, which is a nice everyday wine, and toasted walnuts.

Om nom nom!