Monday, October 25, 2010

Seared Scallops with Apple Celery Root Puree, Pumpkin Seeds and Apple Cider Reduction

This Steelers Sunday was no ordinary Sunday in the household - it also just so happened to be my favorite person in the whole world's birthday.  She had a single food request for the day, one word which is one of my favorite words:  scallops.  I love scallops.  She does too.

One skill that I have been trying to get better at in the kitchen is the ability to come up with my own recipes.  I'm not so interested in just following recipes, although I think that I am starting to be able to recognize and learn more than just memorization from recipes.  I want to know why recipes tell you to use certain ingredients, amounts, and techniques.  I think Michael Ruhlman's books The Elements of Cooking and Ratio have been very helpful for me to get started in that realm.  I was incredibly excited for this dinner because it gave me an opportunity to try my hand at making my own recipe up, and I think the results were really solid.  The pumpkin seeds tip came from my boy Mike, so props for that.  Otherwise it would have been crumbled bacon, which isn't a bad thing, but I was psyched about the pumpkin seeds.

Seared Scallops with Apple Celery Root Puree, Pumpkin Seeds and Apple Cider Reduction

4 sea scallops
1/2 c raw pumpkin seeds
1 celery root
2 apples (I used Gala, maybe there are better baking apples out there, I always forget which kinds are good for which uses)
1/2c half and half or milk
1 c apple cider
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 tbsp shallot
1 stick cinammon
1+ stick butter
several sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter with a few sprigs of thyme to infuse the thyme flavor into the butter.  Trim the skin off of the celery root with a knife and wash.  Dice evenly into 1/2" cubes and put into a mixing bowl.  Peel the apples and core them, dice these into 1/2" cubes as well and add to the bowl.  Reserve a couple tablespoons of the butter and toss the rest with the apples and celery root.  Spread the mix onto a baking sheet with the thyme sprigs, sprinkle some salt on top, and bake for ~40 minutes, until the celery root is soft.  You may want to mix them up a couple of times to try to prevent them from drying out too much.  The apple will soften well before the celery root, so make sure that you check both.

They should be golden when pulled from the oven...

When both are done, toss them in a blender or a food processor and pulse, slowly adding the half and half until the mix reaches a puree consistency.

Fine mesh strainer = NO DICE
This part sucked:  straining the fibrous parts out of the puree and leaving a nice smooth puree.  I tried using my little fine mesh strainer but quickly gave up on that and switched to a chinois.  Using a wooden spoon, smash the puree against the holes of the chinois and push hard.  The smooth puree will come through the holes and the stringy fibers will stay inside the chinois.  This was done purely for texture, so you could easily omit this step if you were pressed for time or feeling lazy.  I would have to say that the trouble was worth it though, even though it took forever and was a total pain in the ass, the puree was creamy and really tasty.  Note to future self:  buy a damn food mill, I do not want to do this shit again.

Season the puree to taste and set aside, keep warm.  I kept mine covered in an oven set on low.


Saute the shallots in 1/2 tbsp butter until translucent.  Add the cider, vinegar, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns and bring liquid to a simmer.  Allow it to reduce to about 1/4 c.  It should take about 30-40 minutes.  When it started getting close, I actually pulled it off the heat and strained it to remove the shallot bits.  I was worried that they would affect my ability to judge when the reduction was the consistency that I wanted, so I quickly strained and returned the liquid to the pan to continue reducing.  When the reduction is done, remove it from heat and mount it with about 1 tbsp of butter.  Season to taste and reserve.

Pumpkin Seeds:

Take your reserved thyme-infused butter from the puree and put it in a skillet set to medium heat.  When the butter is hot, add the raw pumpkin seeds and a little bit of salt and fry for several minutes . The pumpkin seeds will pop and turn from a greenish to a brownish color.  Taste along the way to check for doneness and drain the seeds on a paper towel when they are finished.  Set them aside as well.

I had a hard time not eating all of these before dinner.
Rinse and salt the scallops.  Take the last of the butter (or more if needed.. do you see a trend here?) and heat up a cast iron skillet.  Melt the butter, when the foam reduces, add the scallops and sear for 3-5 minutes on one side.  Flip and sear for just a couple more minutes (do not overcook!!) and baste while searing.  Have the plates ready to go when the scallops are done...which leads to...

I'm pretty terrible at plating - especially when looking out there at all the amazing plating jobs that real restaurants put out (check out Schwa's plating videos - awesome.  Side note, eating at Schwa was one of the more mind blowing experience of my life.. candied lamb brains?  For real.).  I usually don't try too hard when it comes to plating, but I wanted this one to look nice.  Plating was probably the most stressful part of this whole process, haha.  I think it turned out ok.  I used a large ring mold and spread some puree on half of the plate to try to keep everything in a nice circular pattern (circle plate, circle scallops, circle reduction pattern, etc), put the seeds to the side and sprinkle with just a few fresh thyme leaves.  Scallops go on top of the puree and reduction is spooned around the whole thing.  I like that the seeds almost look like they're in a brittle or something.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Steelers Gameday - Homemade Pierogies

Generally speaking, we try to go huge when it comes to Steelers gamedays.  I always try to do something fun in the kitchen on fall Sundays, as long as I can finish all of it before the game starts, because it would be a sin to miss any of the game.  We have a wealth of recipes that we go to - especially for big games: some with nostalgic value for us personally, some with strong family ties (like my wife's family chili recipe that was served to the 70s Super Bowl era Steelers on the reg... I haven't asked for permission to share that one yet :o  ), and some that just remind of us of home.

Pierogies are kind of a Pittsburgh birthright.  I have fond memories of going to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern on Thursday nights in college and getting a plate of pierogies and haluski to go with dollar bottle night (or skunk bottle night, let's call a spade a spade... besides, their clientele would have been there regardless of what they called it) .  By the time they ran out of dollar bottles, it was time to go to the Upstage for 80's night, hang out with friends, and watch people embarass themselves dancing; like the 5'7" guy who went about 250 and wore loud print button downs unbuttoned to the middle of his chest so that you could see his chest hair sticking out.  He only ever danced in front of the mirrors so that he could watch himself making hot faces.  Good times.  Now that you're hungry...

I have made homemade pierogies a few times, but this recipe has easily been my most successful.  The dough slightly resembles pie dough in my mind, and when you fry the pierogies up after boiling them, the butter in the dough makes them incredibly crispy and gives them an almost pastry-like texture.  It is a fantastic dough recipe - it's pliable, tastes great, and I had not a single break during the cooking process.  I made 2 fillings - the standard potato / cheese / onion, and my personal favorite, a peppery ricotta/cottage cheese mixture.  A plate of these, a Steelers win versus the Browns, maybe an Iron City... seriously, what more could you ask for?  I guess we could actually be in Pittsburgh, that would be a good place to start.

This recipe makes about 30 pierogies.  They freeze well, so if you're going to go through all this trouble, you  might as well make a big batch.  I did this over a 2 day period (day 1 = filling, day 2 = dough and pierogi making), it is a lot to do in a single day and you might as well enjoy yourself.

The Dough:

4 cups flour, plus extra
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream, plus extra to serve with the pierogi
1/2 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces

Mix the flour and the salt together on a clean large surface and create a well in the middle.  Beat the eggs slightly and then pour into the middle of the well.  Using a fork, work the eggs into the flour surrounding the well. When incorporated, add the sour cream and butter.  My butter was still a little cold, so I had to use my fingers to make sure that I broke up the butter as much as possible.  Use your hands to combine everything and begin kneading.  At first it will seem like the dough needs much more moisture but just keep working it, and eventually the eggs will work their magic and it will all come together.  Knead until smooth, maybe about 7 minutes or so.  Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Finished dough

The Fillings:

Potato, Cheese, and Onion

I made entirely too much of this, so here is the halved recipe

2-3 Russet potatoes
1 sweet onion
2 tbsp minced fresh chives
4-6 oz cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Start with the onion:  I wanted a deeply caramelized onion because they are so sweet and good.  Cut the onion in half, remove the outer layer, and then cut inward towards the core on an angle.  What you want to do is cut "with the grain" of the onion to make thin strips.  This allows the onion to soften quicker.  Saute the onions in butter for about 30 minutes on med-low heat, until caramelized.  While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and dice them.  Boil until soft and then drain.  Mash or rice (new ricer!) the potatoes into a bowl and allow to cool.  Add in the chives, salt, pepper and cheese.  I waited for the potatoes to cool because I didn't want to cheese to melt in the mixture.  When the onions are done, add them to the mixture and let sit.

Finished potato filling

Cottage Cheese/Ricotta:

I love love love this filling.  This may make too much, depending on how many of this type of pierogies you want to make, so scale as needed.

1 14oz container cottage cheese
3 oz ricotta
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp pepper

Drain the cottage cheese and ricotta for at least an hour, or as long as two.  If the cheese doesn't drain, the pierogi will be really hard to fill, because the cheese will want to squirt out of every open seam.  No fun.  Transfer drained cheese to a bowl, crack the egg in, add the salt, and mix well.  Keep chilled, it will make filling easier.

Finished cheese filling

Making the little 'gi's:
Step 1:  stretch out your back. It will hurt after this.

Step 2:  divide the dough in half, flour your surface and begin rolling out with a rolling pin.  It should be quite thin - 1/16" or so when finished.  Find a cutting implement that is roughly 3-4" in diameter (I started off using the lid from the ricotta until my fine lady pointed out that we had cookie cutters that were the same size.  I am stupid.  She is not.  The sharper the object the better.

Score your rolled out dough with your cutting implement to make the most efficient use of your dough configuration (can you tell that I am part-programmer?).  Really though, this dough is a serious pain in the ass to roll out a second time, so you want to make sure that you get the most pierogies possible out of each run.  I ended up making weird semi-broken raviolis with the leftover dough because I could not get it to stay rolled out a second time.  It becomes too glutenous.

Pull away the excess dough and begin filling each pierogi.  Have a small cup of water with a pastry brush or even just your finger nearby to help glue the edges.

To fill the pierogi, place about 1 tsp (or more depending on the diameter of the rounds) of filling in the middle of the pierogi.  Brush the near edge with water and grab the far edge of the round.  Use one hand to hold the filling in place and the other hand to pull the far edge over to the front of the pierogi.  Press to seal the front of the pierogi and work out to one edge using the palm of your hand.  Spin the pierogi around if necessary and seal the other side using your palm. You want to remove as much air as possible from the filling, so closing off one side and then the other allows you to push as much out as you can.  If you kind of curl your palm down over the top of the pierogi and then press the edges, I find that that helps too.  Use the tines of a fork to press the edges and really seal them.  Be careful that you don't poke holes in the pierogi by pressing too far in.

The rest is easy, get some salted boiling water going and start sauteeing some onions in butter (cast iron if you can).  Boil your pierogies until they float, then for a couple minutes more (raw dough is no good).  Transfer the pierogies to the skillet and fry until golden on each side - maybe 4-5 minutes.
Fry my little babies, Fry!!

Serve with whatever you want but our standards include kielbasa, mustard, sauerkraut, and sour cream.

Congratulations, you are now Polish by rite!  Enjoy your new hard to pronounce last name!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Strike 1 - Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Well, I think that I knew when starting this blog that there would be occasional misses, but I don't think I was expecting them to come so early.  I decided on a whim to give these gnocchi a shot, because I had a new potato ricer that I needed to run through its paces.  The ricer performed admirably.  The recipe - not so much.  I think that sweet potato gnocchi are standard food blog fare (there are like 8+ pages of blog entries when you do a Google search for it), so I was actually kind of excited to make something new that seemed like such a sure fire bet.  Although dinner wasn't the best, and we ended up grazing on various cheeses accumulated over the past couple weeks after dinner, I did get something very good out of this recipe:  the ability to make a solid ricotta gnocchi!  My last experimentation with ricotta gnocchi was a complete disaster, to the point where my gnocchi "dough" was so runny that I had to use it instead as filling for an impromptu ravioli.  This recipe worked great considering there was no egg or anything aside from the potato to act as a binder.  The ricotta were light and airy, the texture was really great, it just came down to the flavor, which my wife aptly described as tasting like Thanksgiving dessert because of the nutmeg and brown sugar.  I even used less nutmeg than the recipe suggested to try to avoid that!  In the back of my head, I knew that those flavors would imply the whole Thanksgiving thing, but I expected the brown butter and sage to balance it out and be the stronger flavors.  In the end, I would suggest this recipe as a base but I would have to find a new flavor combination to make this work.  I do have about 50 of these little Thanksgiving nuggets in my freezer right now though, so feel free to stop by and find out for yourself.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage (from Epicurious)

  • 2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
  • 1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours 
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 3/4 cups (about) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish

Roast sweet potatoes in 400 oven for 30-40 minutes, until well cooked through. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese (make sure you did drain it, it is really important in order to keep the dough from being too watery); fold ricotta in. I folded instead of mashing because I didn't want to lose the airy texture from the riced potatoes and ricotta.  Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; fold to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.

Ricotta / sweet potato / parmesan ready to mix
Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces.

The dough was really light but held together really well

Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. I had a hard time getting the tines trick to work - if I did it to the floured side of the gnocchi, the tines just slid off.  I ended up turning the gnocchi 90 degrees in my palm so that the tines were on the cut ends (not floured).  That made the tines stick and allowed me to get some traction.  After marking grooves, move gnocchi to floured baking sheet.

Rolled out, cut, ready to get marked with a fork
Not the prettiest, I must say, but I got better towards the end of the batch

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

For Sauce:

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Turn off heat. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.  Add gnocchi, sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes.


Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with sage leaves.

Looks good at least

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Shrimp n Grits

While living in Chicago, I remember deciding at one point that I needed to know more about Southern cooking.  I'm not sure what was so attractive about it, maybe the idea that in the south people just eat barbeque and sit on rocking chairs on big wraparound porches while drinking sweet tea or something.  Of course, after having lived in the south for over 2 years now, I now have a pretty different perception of the south, but eating legit southern staples has cemented the fact that Southern cooking is still one of my favorite regional cuisines.  It's also finally getting colder in Raleigh, so when Mechelle suggested wanting shrimp and grits for dinner, I was pretty into the idea of rich creamy grits on a chilly evening.

Shrimp and Grits are a lowcountry thing - more South Carolina than North.  However, you do see them on a lot of menus at restaurants in North Carolina.  Although I haven't been to the coast too much, I would imagine you would see them even more regularly there than in the more central Raleigh area.  The best shrimp and grits that I've had in this area came from Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill.  I like my version of shrimp and grits, I think they are better than most of the shrimp and grits that i've had, but Crook's Corner's blew me away.  Their grits were so light and the sauce was so subtle but still not overpowered by the grits or the bacon in the dish.  I was able to find a recipe for Crook's Corner's shrimp and grits , which I roughly follow now as my go-to recipe.  Maybe some old belle in Charleston would lose her shit if she found out that there were mushrooms in this recipe, but I really like the texture that they lend to it, so they are keepers in my book.  Here's my spin on it...


2 cups water
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup regular grits (stone ground if you can find them, quick grits are ok but get kind of gummy)
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (milder hot sauce, you just want the acidic tang to balance out the cream)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper


4 bacon slices
1 pound medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped green onions, plus more for garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

If you are using stone ground or non-quick cook grits, plan for about 40 minutes of cooking time for the grits.  If you're using quick-cook, they will take about 5-10.  You should definitely plan accordingly because letting quick cook grits sit on the stove for 40 minutes while you make everything else because you got quick cook instead of regular means your grits will turn to wallpaper paste, and that sucks.  I can speak on that one from personal experience.  

I got these guys at whole foods, I pretty much only took a picture because the bag is awesome.
So anyway, bring water, stock, cream, and salt to a boil and add grits.  Lower heat to medium-low and make sure that you keep stirring or whisking the grits once every few minutes to avoid clumps.  When the grits are nearly done, add the cheese, butter, and hot sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can leave them to warm on the stove until you're ready to plate.

Mostly finished grits pre-cheese

 For the shrimp, start by cooking the bacon until it is pretty well done, then remove it from the pan and drain it on a paper towel.  Save about 1 tbsp of bacon fat in the pan for everything else, and toss the rest.  While the bacon is cooking, toss the shrimp in the flour and a little salt until evenly coated.  Saute your mushrooms for about 5 minutes in the bacon fat until they start to brown.  Toss in the green onions and garlic and saute very quickly (don't let the garlic brown). Add the shrimp and saute on each side for a couple of minutes, until they turn pink.  Add the chicken stock, hot sauce, and lemon juice and cook until the shrimp are done.  Add the bacon just as it is finishing.  You may have to whisk the flour into the stock a bit to break it up, but it will create a nice slightly thickened sauce for you.  Season to taste (I use Crystal hot sauce, which is really mild but super tangy, it's great for this.  I also end up adding a lot more than 1/4 teaspoon).  The truth is that the sauce is a very quick process, it should only take about 10 minutes start to finish (from the bacon being done to finished dish), so be sure to have everything ready to go once you add the mushrooms.

All the cool kids ready to go to the party

After adding chicken stock, scrape up the brown bits so that they flavor the sauce

Serve by scooping some of the grits into a bowl (I prefer a bowl, it keeps the grits in one place), then put the shrimp on top and spoon some sauce around.  Top with the last of the green onions and serve.  I need a nicer camera.