Saturday, September 27, 2008

If You Show a Chef a Menu

My title is a takeoff on the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, in case you were wondering. In the book, once you give a mouse a cookie, he'll ask for some milk to go with it. Then he'll want this, that and the other thing until it comes around again to giving the mouse a cookie again.

In my story, if you show a chef a menu, she'll want to cook something from it. And if she cooks something, she'll want to take a picture of it. And if it's really great, she'll want to blog about it. And before you know it, she'll be thinking about the next menu and the next thing she can cook.

It started this morning, when I ran into a good friend at the local music store. Her children were just finishing their lessons, and I had run in to get a flute book for my daughter.

I wished her a happy birthday (it was yesterday), and she told me her family had enjoyed a great dinner out at a local restaurant the evening before. She proceeded to pull the menu from her handbag and point to the entree she had ordered. (All of my very good friends carry menus in their handbags. ;) ) Actually, the way she put it was, "I want you to make this for me next time we get together." It was a delicious-sounding dish of shrimp, scallops, spinach, garlic, white wine, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and mushrooms on pasta.

As I left the music store, though it was only 11 am, all I could think about was that dish. It sounded sooo good.

Fate intervened when my son (the picky eater) decided to spend the afternoon and evening at his friends' house, leaving me all alone for dinner. (My daughter's at a sleepover birthday party, and my husband is at the race track.) YES! I could make the dish I'd been thinking about all day.

I didn't have shrimp, artichoke hearts or mushrooms, but the result was really scrumptious. Feel free to double, triple or quadruple the quantities, depending on how many people you're serving.

Sauteed Scallops with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes over Fettucine
Serves 1

handful of dry fettucine
4-5 scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 T. EVOO, divided
salt and pepper
white wine
chicken stock or pasta water
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 package baby spinach
2 T. chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Put a pot of water on to boil. When boiling, add fettucine and cook until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, heat 1 T. EVOO in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add scallops, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let cook 3 minutes. If they're cooking too fast, turn the heat down a bit. Flip and cook 3 more minutes, or until done. Remove scallops from pan.

Pour a splash of vermouth or white wine in the pan and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the bits. When it's thickened a bit, add a splash of chicken stock or pasta water. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and set aside.

Add remaining 1/2 T. EVOO and saute garlic for about 30 seconds. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Add sun-dried tomatoes. By now your pasta should be done. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the sauce to the pan and mix it all together until it's nice and hot. If you're a hedonist, add a pat of butter.

Pour the pasta, vegetables and sauce into a serving bowl. Top with the scallops. Enjoy.

Blogging - Who Has Time??

Geez, when I started this blog, I imagined myself sharing witty, interesting things with my handful of readers every couple of days or so. In reality, it's every couple of weeks or so, if we're lucky.

Why, I wonder, are some people so darn good at blogging, while others (me) are not so good? I think it's because the good bloggers:

* don't have jobs
* don't have children
* don't need as much sleep as I do
* abuse caffeine

Does that sound reasonable? Hmmm. Probably not. But I have to believe it. For now.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato

Tonight I held an informal Baked Potato Soup taste off. I'm trying to create the perfect recipe for this delicious fall/winter soup. My ideal soup would be creamy but not too thick; have lots of flavor and tender potatoes; and not be a caloric nightmare.

The contenders consisted of two soups: one called "California Dreaming's Baked Potato Soup," which I found on the Cooking Light bulletin board and seemed to be a big favorite with home cooks; the other "Makeover Baked Potato Soup," from Healthy Cooking magazine. I made a few modifications to each recipe, based on my family's tastes.

Appearance wise, we all thought "California Dreaming" looked the most appetizing. It's the soup on the left, in the yellow bowl. It was snowy white, thick and creamy with chunks of baked potatoes throughout. "Makover Soup" was beige with many flecks of color from the parsley, bacon and spices throughout. I topped each soup with cooked bacon bits, chopped chives and shredded cheddar cheese.

All of my tasters asked for more bacon on their soup (that's to be expected, since my tasters were my kids and husband). In a surprise upset, "Makeover Baked Potato Soup" was the favorite of 3 of the 4 tasters, who cited its excellent flavor and consistency; only one taster chose "California Dreaming" as her favorite. She liked the thickness of the soup as well as the mild flavor.

Without further ado, the winning recipe, adapted from Healthy Cooking:

Makeover Baked Potato Soup
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings (2 quarts)

3 medium potatoes
8 bacon strips, diced (5 for soup; 3 for garnish)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup flour, divided
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 T. fresh chopped basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
Additional parsley, chives, cheese, and bacon for garnish

Scrub and pierce potatoes; place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave uncovered on high for 8 - 12 minutes, or until tender, turning once. Remove and let cool while you begin the recipe.

In a heavy dutch oven or very large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Save about 2 T. bacon grease in the pan.

Saute the onion in the bacon grease until tender. Stir in 1/4 cup flour; cook and stir for 5 - 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the parsley, basil, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil Cook and stir for 2 minutes, or until thickened.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining flour with the milk until smooth; add to the pan. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Peel and cube the baked potatoes; add to the soup. Add 5 slices of the cooked crumbled bacon (a bit more than half). Cook and stir until heated through. Add cheese and stir until just melted. Garnish with additional parsley, chives, cheese and bacon if desired.