A Weekend With the Boys

Well I know it’s been a while, but Spiceboy is back with a new adventure and a new menu to share.

One of my very favorite times of year is Labor Day weekend, when the boys and I take off for the north shores of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It’s time for a few relaxing days of laying on the beach, shopping, chatting, eating good food – and indulging in some boardwalk-style junkfood while we’re at it!

As thanks for the invitation from my dear friends Mac and Christopher, I make it a point to prepare a meal for everyone.

When at the ocean, what could be more apt than to take advantage of all the fresh seafood? This year, I designed a 3-course tasting menu of small plates, built around a few staples I brought with me: Carnaroli rice for risotto, real stone-ground grits, and of course a handful of spice jars tucked into my knife bag.

Course one: I had in mind oysters, simply broiled with ginger-lime butter. This dish was more of a method than a recipe. With my able sous chef Victor D., we simply eyeballed the ingredients and went by taste, mixing lime juice, pepper, garlic butter, and finely minced ginger. We then topped each oyster on the half shell with a generous dollop of the concoction. (I got a lot of practice with my oyster knife , shucking all 16 oysters myself – I must say, I’m getting a little better at this!) When broiling oysters in the oven, I find that 10 or 11 minutes at 425 works pretty well. You want to barely cook them, and just see those edges begin to curl. The citrus and butter mixed delightfully with the oyster’s natural liquor and created a lovely sauce that draped the prize, as you can see:

(Pictures are by Mac M, by the way. His came out better than mine.)

Course two was a twist on the classic shrimp and grits. I made buttery ancho chile grits with sauteed shrimp and a fried green tomatillo. This was supposed to be a fried green tomato, but the market didn’t have any. Oh well, sometimes we have to improvise.  The grits incorporated a heaping tablespoon of pure ancho chile powder, and the shrimp carried a subtle dusting of my personal New Mexico chile blend, to continue the spicy theme. As an added texture, the tomatillo, first soaked in cream (because we had no buttermilk), was breaded with corn-flake crumbs (because we had no breadcrumbs) for some nice crunch. The tartness of the tomatillo played nicely with the slight sweetness of the corn-flake. Improvisation worked out this time – I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Course three was my version of surf and turf: sweet corn risotto with soft shell crab, and sirloin steak slices. Soft shell crabs may look intimidating, but they saute up so simply, and they have incredible flavor and texture. I have a couple of hints to share with you. When I make my sweet corn risotto, I slice the kernels from the cob, then simmer the cobs in the stock I’m using for the risotto as I complete the dish. By doing so, the “milk” that the cob exudes will give off more corn flavor, and make for a richer-tasting dish. Victor and I sauteed the crabs carefully until they were just cooked. We cut up the crab bodies into bite-sized pieces and stirred them into the risotto, which allowed their flavorful, buttery juices to carry throughout. The crunchy legs and claws were used for garnish.

In all, I think the boys were pretty satisfied, and though I wouldn’t say my invitation for next year is in the bag, I think my chances are pretty good. Do you think?

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Isn’t That FUN?!

What we’re exploring: Our own imagination, New recipes

What we discovered: Pistachios, (and our own irritating habits)

Cost: Pistachios are moderate to expensive (but not bad in a vinaigrette, or in recipes that only call for a handful. They disappear quickly, however, if you are a snack-hound like me.)

Why use them: They’re nutritious, very tasty, and most importantly – fun!

So I have everyone doing this thing. Let me see if I can explain it. It started out with me making fun of these cheerful people who will, like, look at an object (let’s say a red sofa, or a festive pot of flowers) and put their hands on their hips and say, “Isn’t that FUN?!”

So I started putting MY hands on my hips when I see something festive and saying, “Isn’t that FUN?!” in order to make fun of these shiny, happy types. But then, slowly, over the due course of time, I actually BECAME one of these people that do this thing. Then my roommate Scotty started doing it, probably to make fun of me. Then my friend Brant started doing it. Then Eric. You see where this is going. And now it has become this extremely irritating phenomenon that we have now just annoy each other with. It’s actually kind of tragic, really.

Which leads me to my next point. Pistachios are FUN. There’s no denying it. Pistachios are not only delicious, they’re packed with healthy fats, protein, fiber and minerals. And just as importantly, they’re FUN – like little presents. They make you want to put your hands on your hips and say “Awww!”

Having an idea for a recipe, or just a combination of foods and flavors, can be a labor of love. Most of the time it will take several tries to get a recipe just right. So I’m always kind of thrilled when it comes out right the first time. This dish – Seared Scallops with Melted Leeks and Pistachio Vinaigrette – is just such an anomaly. It came out just right and it was simple and delicious – the first time. Now that’s what I call fun.

Seared Scallops with Melted Leeks and Pistachio Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Ingredients

12 sea scallops

2 large leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced and rinsed well

2 cups mâche or baby arugula, rinsed and dried

1 large lemon

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons pistachios, shelled

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

Sea salt and pepper

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Heap in the leeks. They should be crowded. The leeks will cook down as they melt; this will take about 6 – 8 minutes. You want to catch them when they just begin to get mushy, but when they still have a nice texture.

2. While leeks are cooking, prepare the scallops, and make the vinaigrette. Remove muscle from the scallops if present, and season with salt and pepper. For the vinaigrette, chop the pistachios coarsely (I like to leave a few whole). Reserve just a bit of the chopped pistachios for garnish and add the rest to a bowl. Add the honey, mustard, the juice of 1/2 of the lemon (reserve the other half for later), salt and pepper, and whisk together. Drizzle in 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. When leeks are done, remove them from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Sear the scallops until they are cooked through and just barely firm, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. They should have some nice color. Just before they are done, squeeze the reserved lemon half over them and swirl the pan around to cover the scallops with the lemon and pan juices.

4. For a delightful presentation, I like to spoon the leeks into small mounds and put the scallops on top, then add the greens in the middle of the plate. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the whole dish and sprinkle the reserved pistachios over to garnish.

To be sure, the idea for a pistachio vinaigrette is not mine originally. I’m not sure where I heard of it first, but it sure is tasty. This vinaigrette recipe also works well with hazelnuts. A vinaigrette with a little crunch and a citrus tang is a nice foil for many types of seafood, and you just need a little drizzle to add flavor, and (yes, I’m going to say it again) fun – to your dish and to your table.

Anyway, this is a fun dish to impress your guests with, and it requires minimal skill and prep time. In fact, the leeks and the vinaigrette can be done in advance – just don’t add the nuts to the dressing until just before serving, since they will get soggy. Just reheat the leeks gently before serving. A nice dish for entertaining.

Have fun!