Monday, May 26, 2008

Coquilles St. Jacques au vin blanc

Summer classes have officially begun for Boston University and while part of me is wondering if I should have taken the summer off to just enjoy life a little, part of me is excited about cooking for homework. It's a new experience and part of what drew me to the gastronomy program at BU. As one of my clients loves to say, ONWARDS!

So after finishing up last semester's food economics and policy class (and the cheese class which started half way through the semester and finished with a paper and final on Monday of this week), I've started my summer class, entitled, "Culture and Cuisine: Regions of France." The class even involves a week long trip at the end of June to visit a region of France and explore the vineyards and markets... I know, woe is me and my life of food and travel.

For the beginning part of this class, we are cooking recipes from the regions we're focusing on for that class/week, and then writing a paper on the dish and our experience cooking it. This week, our Thursday class will be focusing on the Southwest region of France, as well as the Pyrenees and Gascony, both regions feature heavy, fatty, delicious foods (hello foie!) so I was spoiled for choices. Keeping in mind the paper also needed to explain why we believed the dish to be a regional one, I chose to make coquilles St. Jaques au vin blanc (basically, scallops in a white wine sauce) from the Southwest region, which includes the Bordeaux region and emphasizes the great seafood found along the western coastline of France.

The recipe had everything: luscious scallops, salty, smoky bacon, creamy, fatty butter, and the inclusion of the region's famous Bordeaux wine - what could go wrong?


This dish was particularly spectacular (ahem - the fact that I cooked the scallops perfectly helped, AND it was my first experience with them, makes me a superstar if-I-do-say-so-myself). If it wasn't so damned costly (4 scallops = $7), I'd eat this all the time. It'd be my "oh this? I whipped this up in five minutes today" dish for guests, because not only does this delicious dish present well and taste good, it really does take like 15 minutes to pull together. BIG FAN. Big. Huge!

Important: don't skimp on ingredients, there's so few and they need to be up to scratch so your efforts aren't in vain.

Coquilles St. Jacques au vin blanc (scallops in white wine sauce)
Adapted from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking and Anne Willan's Regional French Cooking

4 large bay scallops, cut in half horizontally
1 oz butter
2 oz bacon, small chop
1 large shallot, finely diced
3 tbsp flour
1 small glass of white Bordeaux wine
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
pepper (salt isn't necessary, bacon will add enough)

Heat butter in saute pan and add bacon and shallots, saute over medium heat until bacon is lightly browned and shallots are yellow and translucent. Lightly season scallops with pepper and dust lightly with flour, patting off any excess before adding to the pan of butter, shallots and bacon.

Turn heat down to medium-low and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, turning the scallops half way through. Once cooked, remove and place on a plate to rest. Raise heat to high and add wine, stirring to remove some of the flavorful build up on the bottom of the pan. Reduce until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, add parsley and stir.

Plate the scallops and sauce, garnish with more parsley if desired. Serve immediately.

Serves two.

Also, I forgot the parsley and reckon it would have added a nice freshness to the very heavy dish of butter, scallops and bacon, all very rich ingredients.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


While there are a number of things that make me happy, on the top of that list includes two things: delicious and portable food items, and, excessively long and detailed wikipedia entries on random things. Based on those two requirements, it's little surprise that I would fall madly in love with empanadas.

What made this even better for me was that the whole time I was working with the dough, I was humming "The Girl from Impanena" and swaying. There was a very South American/Latin vibe in my kitchen for about 20 minutes until I realized that I was standing in my Boston kitchen freezing because summer has taken a sabbatical this year.

(Note: my back and arms were in so much pain the next day... if only I was in better shape and worked out more, I'd probably not be struggling the next day to do simple things like move. Or sneeze.)

I focused mostly on the dough because Jason likes to make, what I call, 'concoctions' in the kitchen. Included in this is a banana he mashes and then pours chocolate milk powder and milk over and eats/drinks for dessert or breakfast. Granted, we don't have a blender, but, I feel like even if we did it wouldn't change things much. There was another time he was feeling particularly motivated and I came home to find he had made deviled chicken drumsticks based on a recipe he'd found on cooks.com. The covering was this gross breaded-mayo disaster that was gooey and crunchy at the same time and gave me a stomachache. I had to give him props for trying something new and weird, but he lacks that common sense bone that says, "warm, crunchy mayo-y things probably not so appealing, man." God love him for trying though.

Anyway, I can't know what Jason put into the meat (and will have him guest blog about it) but I directed him to make it either have a thick sauce, or no sauce at all because there's something distinctly uncomfortable about eating a hot empanada and burning yourself on the sauce. I also said that whatever he did do had to be a strong flavor because it had to compensate for the plain flavor of the dough.

These may not have been the best in the world, but they were damned good for a first try. And Jason did a great job with the meat, especially for someone who's never had empanadas before, he really embraced the idea.

I've included the recipe for the dough below, a very simple one that I do by hand, but I'm sure it'd work in a mixer. As for meat, I honestly think you could do anything you wanted with this as long as you keep in mind the two rules I gave Jason: don't make the saucy too runny and make it a flavor punch.

Empanada dough
Adapted from Carlos Rodriguez, chef of Orinoco

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup ice-cold water
1 tsp salt

Place 2 cups of flour in a bowl, add the vegetable oil and water slowly, stirring constantly until a ball forms. Add the all the salt and slowly sprinkle the remaining flour on the dough, kneading between additions of flour. You may not need to use all of the remaining flour, just aim for something that's soft and pliable without being sticky or too shiny.

Sit to rest for 20 minutes and make the filling. While it rests, a little of the oil may leach out of the dough - don't worry about it, you can either add more flour and knead it in, or just knead it back together.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the dough out to 1/4 thickness and cut into 6- or 8-inch circles. Fill with stuffing, lightly water the rum, fold in half and seal, pinching together both halves and crimp with a fork.

Lightly brush the empanadas with an egg wash (one egg beaten lightly with a little milk) and poke holes in the top with a fork.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Review: Lumiere

Jessica Simpson is a funny singer. Pop culture judgments aside, she began as a very disciplined technical singer: good range, on pitch, correct breathing. But she's missing something fundamental. Maybe she'll figure out that imperfection and character makes for a stronger entertainer, Britney may not be the best singer, but girl can put on a show. But what does this have to do with dinner?
Well, Lumiere is great in a lot of ways. It's priced really well for a high-end French restaurant, it's pretty, appealing and is true to form. We had the tasting menu (one with wine pairing and one without) and it was Good. Everything we were served was cooked and seasoned to perfection with flavors that complimented each other and created very harmonious bites in terms of taste and texture.

I have absolutely no complaints, yet I can't help but feel like something was missing. Much like Jessica Simpson's performances, I feel the meal lacked depth, emotion, personality and love. I think French food should evoke feelings of warmth, sensuality and passion, forcing you to rethink the way you've approached food. It should push you to crave, desire and want more because I feel like tasting menus should take me on a journey and to teach me something and to leave me thinking. I'm not likely to remember this as anything but a Very Nice Meal a year from now... is that good or bad?

Either way, it was a Good and technically perfect meal that provided me the opportunity to have wonderfully romantic dinner with my dear boyfriend.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Penang Curry

When I was watching Top Chef last week where the challenge was to make a dinner for four with only $10. I couldn't help but think how easy the challenge is because I do it just about every day. Of course, I'm not trying to impress Tom Colicchio (or any of the other judges - I don't remember them by name because they're kind of sucky) or trying to cook with a very young and inexperienced sous chef.

Do I think Andrew should have been kicked off for making curry? No. But I do think he should be kicked off for making a bad curry. The judges saying that it wasn't practical to cook curry for children because of it's spice and unfamiliar flavors but I think a child without curry in their lives is a childhood wasted!

Penang Curry

1.5lbs beef shank
1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
1 13.5oz can of coconut cream
6 Tbsp Penang curry paste
2 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp crumbled palm sugar

1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 Tbsp very thinly shredded Kaffir lime leaves
2 Tbsp crushed peanuts

Trim beef of all silver skin and place in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower temperature to low and simmer slowly for three hours. Watch it carefully and refill with water if necessary. Once done, place beef in refridgerator overnight. Slice as thinly as possible and place aside.

(Alternatively, Jason boils the hell out of the beef for a couple hours and ends up with a nice brisket-like texture. Then throws it in the fridge and does the slicing.)

In a different pot/wok, pour coconut milk and coconut cream and heat slowly over medium-high heat until shiny and little bubbles form around the edges of the milk and cream mixture, about 4 minutes.

Over medium-high heat, mix in the curry paste until completely incorporated and simmer again for 5 minutes. Add meat, bell pepper, and fish sauce, stir and simmer again for 5 minutes.

Add palm sugar and stir until fully incorporated, simmer again 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add lime leaves and peanuts. Serve immediately over rice.