Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Puree

I've always envied those grocery store shoppers who can walk up to a meat or seafood counter and demand specific cuts or filets with the confidence that suggests they sautee sirloin or roast oysters on a nightly basis. I've only recently gathered the gumption to walk up to the deli counter to request turkey slices for my lunch sandwiches. I used to go for the over-priced pre-packaged stuff in the front of the deli case until I realized the stuff in the case was often on sale and you get a free sample if you ask for it.
This past weekend I got to be that person at the seafood counter. I proudly walked up to the seamonger (right terminology?) in Whole Foods and said "I would like a pound and a half of your jumbo scallops please!" And then about passed out when I saw the price slapped on the package he handed me.

Needless to say, this was the first time I had ever cooked with scallops and OMG, why have I not done this before? (The expense being the number one factor, but still . . . ) This dish was unbelievably easy -- so easy you wonder if you are doing it right and if that really is
all there could be to seared scallops. Even I couldn't screw this up and the smell . . . oh let me tell you . . . when you place the scallops in a hot pan with oil the most delicious aroma occurs. Even Newt-the-cat came out from his evening nap to give his accolades.

And this dish, although appearing fancy schmancy, is like the people's champion of meals because it is special enough for a weekend dinner but easy enough for a weeknight. Either way, nothing brightens up a dreary Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday as is the trend this week) than to say "I think I'll sear some scallops tonight. And I'll make cauliflower puree to go with it." Oh yes, you can be that person too.

Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Puree
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, March 2011 Issue
Available online here.

2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup cubed peeled Yukon gold potato
1 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon canola oil (or enough to coat a saute pan large enough for your scallops)
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Bring first four ingredients to a boil in a saucepan; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or until potato is tender. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, uncovered (I may have left mine covered and it did not make a difference). Heat a large skillet over high heat and add oil, swirling to coat. Pat scallops dry with paper towels and sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper. Add scallops to pan; cooking 3 minutes on each side or until you feel they are done enough. (Mine were pretty spot on with the three minutes/side.) Pour cauliflower mixture in a blender -- reserve some of the liquid. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, butter and red pepper. Remove center piece of blender lid to let steam escape and secure lid on blender. Blend until smooth. Add reserved liquid bit by bit to get the puree to your desired consistency. Serve puree with scallops.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Southern Coconut Cake

As every Southern belle knows, one way to impress your friends and family is to bake something for them for their birthday or drop off some cookies ‘just because’ or happen to have a beautiful three-layered cake at the center of one’s table when a visitor drops by that you ‘had just felt like whipping up.’ I come from a long line of strong, Southern women and my paternal grandmother was quite the chef. I can honestly say that up until a few months before she died, I would walk into her house and smell something baking or cooking. I guess I get the kitchen bug from her.

I’m not sure Mimi ever made a coconut cake, as my father (her son) is quite adamant about his dislike for the fruit (Or nut? We had this debate as we ate it.) but had she chosen to make one despite her family’s distaste, I would like to think she would have used this recipe. Granted the cookbook from which this recipe originates is rather new, I am sure she would have appreciated the beauty and gracefulness of the cake and the instant fancy-factor it adds to any place it sits – even on my ottoman in a drab apartment. I at least gussied it up with a broach of my grandmother’s that I wear.

I made this cake for a member of my new family. My brother-in-law’s birthday was last week and I offered to make him a homemade cake. His request was a coconut cake. I, of course, had to go all out – not two layers but three, not just cream cheese icing but buttercream cream cheese icing, and not just any coconut cake, but one called “Southern” coconut cake.

I think Mimi would be proud.

Southern Coconut Cake
Adapted from

Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

Equipment – Three 8 or 9 inch cake pans, a couple mixers (or a lot of clean bowls and mixer attachments), a candy thermometer, a bag of sweetened coconut.

The Cake

5 egg whites
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
2 1/3 cups sugar
4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at warm temperature
1 cup unsweetened coconut cake (I went back and forth on whether this meant the kind in the can in the baking aisle or the kind in the milk section. I went with the former.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable cooking spray and line the bottom of each pan with a round of waxed paper and spray that with vegetable cooking spray. It is helpful if each pan is the same brand and type of pan – I had to borrow a pan from my mom and the third layer came out a little different as far as rise and cooking time. Not too much that it was a disaster, but enough that it was a nuisance.

Put the egg whites in a mixing bowl and whisk slightly. Add the ½ cup milk and the vanilla and mix thoroughly and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, beat to mix well and break up any lumps. Add the butter and coconut milk and, with the mixer still on low, beat to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing just long enough to incorporate between additions. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes then turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

For the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese, slightly chilled
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
3 egg whites

Place the cream cheese in a mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Set this aside at room temperature while the buttercream is prepared. To prepare the buttercream, combine the granulated sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (about 238 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile put the egg whites in a mixer bowl and have the mixer set up and ready to go. When the syrup is ready, turn the mixer to medium-low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites, taking care not to pour it directly onto the beaters or it may splash. When all of the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the egg white mixture has cooled to body temperature and a stiff meringue forms (this will take awhile – I didn’t do it long enough).

With the mixer on low speed, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

To Assemble the Cake

Lay the first layer, flat side up, on a plate. Put about a cup of the icing onto the top of the cake and spread to the edges. Sprinkle about ½ a cup of coconut on top of the icing. Place the second layer, flat side up, on top of the first. Repeat the icing and coconuting on this layer. Finish with the third layer then ice the sides of the cake. Supposedly you can press coconut onto the sides without too much difficulty but since I didn’t whip my icing enough, I needed to pretty quickly put my cake in the refrigerator once I had frosted the sides. If I had tried to coconut the sides, I would have ended up with a lot of coconut-mixed-with-frosting around the rim of my cake and fairly lightly frosted sides of the cake.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sandy's Cherry Cobbler

I’ve got twelve days before the farmer’s market near my office opens. That’s twelve days I have to continue the routine of buying only-in-your-grocery-store produce that I am sure has been shipped in from at least five states away. In fact, I believe the last apples I purchased came from Chile. They couldn’t find a Granny Smith apple closer to Charlotte?

As I continue to explore cooking and baking, I realize the best inspiration is drawn from what foods are in season and freshest to one’s locale. I’m not to the point where I only ‘buy local’ or ‘eat organic’ because, frankly, those are sometimes more expensive (especially the organic options) but as spring approaches, I am excited to head to the Farmer’s Market during my lunch and see what my menu will consist of that week. And, let’s be honest, how many of us make a special stop at McLeod's Farms on the way to or from the beach to pick up a peck of peaches because we know no peaches in a grocery store will ever taste that good?

This recipe from Food Network is a compromise. I tried it because it seemed simple enough to make for a quick evening dessert but also to see how I felt fresh fruit would hold up in its directions. I feel like, not only would fresh berries, cherries, pears, etc. hold up quite well, but it would make it infinitely better. No offense to Sandra Lee but sometimes semi-homemade is still better with whatever produce is waiting for you just around the corner. And when I do make those substitutions – I’m calling this “MJ’s Fruit Cobbler.”

Sandy’s Cherry Cobbler
Adapted from
Food Network, Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee

One of the things I liked about this recipe is that you use a cast iron skillet. That seemed like it would up my street cred in the baking world so I tried it out. And, I learned all about
seasoning your skillet once you are done using it. Thanks, Joy.

1 1/2 cups baking mix (I used Hungry Jack)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon almond extract (next time I make this I would up it a bit because I really like almond extract)
¾ a stick of butter (the original recipe says an entire stick but I think that was too much)
1 (21 ounces) can cherry pie filling
1 cup frozen cherries, thawed
These last two ingredients are where I would add some fresh fruit next time and try to find the proper amount and type of liquid to make up for the lost juice in the pie filling.
Vanilla Ice Cream for topping

Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet (this is important – I think mine was bigger and it was a bit too low on the topping to fruit ratio) over medium heat and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine baking mix, sugar, evaporated milk, and almond extract. Whisk until smooth. Set aside. Add the butter to the skillet and melt. Stir in the pie filling and thawed cherries. Pour batter over top. Bake until golden and toothpick inserted into batter comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Mine was done right at 35 minutes and may have been a bit overdone but this also could’ve been due to the wider skillet as well. Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour before serving. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf

I know this post may seem like quite a downgrade from the M & M's Cookies that I shared with you this past weekend, (whose photo, I might add, was accepted by Food Gawker! Hollaaaa!!) but I wanted to give you an example of what I'm trying to explain here. Did you ever have those moments in your childhood when you would walk into the kitchen -- excited for dinner -- only to see a particular dish on the table and have your eagerness deflated? Or, have you ever gone to your favorite food blog and seen a dish that didn't seem appetizing at all after you thought there could never be a recipe shared that you would never not like from that blogger?

Well, a meal that leads to such uninspiring instances for me would have to be meatloaf. It could be because it is not what one would consider ‘pretty.’ It could be because you put leftovers in a sandwich, which just seems odd to me. You don’t put leftovers of other baked, casserole-type dishes in a sandwich. It could also be because it was my brother’s favorite meal and it is my duty, as the baby sister, to be contrary. In fact at one of my bridal showers, everyone was asked to bring a recipe and what did my mom bring? “BJ’s Favorite Meatloaf.” BJ is my brother. This was my shower. I guess I will be the baby for life.

Ironically, I married a man who adores meatloaf about as much as my brother does. So when I saw this recipe a couple of months ago on, I thought “I bet even I would like this.” And then I let it sit on my mind -- ruminating for a few weeks before I finally committed (hence why I am giving you a middle-of-the-Winter dinner suggestion even though Spring is five days away).
This version of meatloaf was so worth the wait. The dish was unbelievably moist, soft yet accommodating to being served in slices (but not in sandwiches – still not into that yet), and, most importantly, super-easy to make. The sauce was tangy yet sweet and was just as delicious on the mashed potatoes as the meat. In fact, the next time I make it, I will double the sauce for that reason. I have worked that adjustment into the recipe below. You can thank me later.

Turkey Meatloaf
Adapted from Use Real Butter which was discovered on Saveur
1 pound ground turkey
3/4 cup bread crumbs
, Garlic flavored (you can also use regular bread crumbs and add a tablespoon of garlic powder but I went with the all-inclusive approach)
1 egg

1 small onion, minced

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz red currant jelly
 (you may have to look hard for this type of jelly but I promise you it is there)
2 jars chili sauce (I used Heinz chili sauce – it is in the same aisle as the tomato sauces if I remember correctly)
Preheat oven to 350F. Heat red currant jelly in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add the chili sauce and stir until combined. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. Mix (with your hands, preferably) ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Pour about ½ a cup of the sauce into the turkey and mix well. Scoop the mixture into a loaf pan and pat down with a spoon or your fingers. Pour a cup of the sauce over the top. Bake for an hour. Serve with remaining sauce.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

M & M's Cookies

On this beautiful, 68-degree, perfectly-breezy day, I spent six hours inside watching basketball and related basketball commentary. On any other weekend (except the next three), this would be considered a waste. But not during March Madness. Not during the ACC Tournament. Not when my beloved Blue Devils managed to beat up on a team that beat them two weeks ago. And not when the outcome of today's games could create a replay of the biggest rivalry in college hoops for tomorrow's championship game.

I also do not consider this perfect day a waste because I whipped out a delicious batch of these cookies to further show my support for my team. I was thrilled when Mars added the blue M & M for obvious reasons and pay homage to that color here. Go ahead, chalk up an exorbitant amount of money for a lot of appropriately-colored-chocolate-coated candies so you can show your allegiance to your team too.

And let's hope this time tomorrow, as I watch Selection Sunday, Duke is the #1 seed in Charlotte and the Heels are somewhere far, far away . . . (Either way, please disregard the cookie crumbs on my bracket.)

M & M's Cookies
Adapted from A Patchwork of Recipes: Beth Eden Lutheran Church Cookbook (the Burgundy one)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups Duke blue M & M's (or an appropriate color of your choice)
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon salt

Mix shortening and plain sugar. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Mix the sifted mixture and the brown sugar into the liquids. Mix well. Stir in M & M's. Using a teaspoon, drop them onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. (Mine actually took about nine minutes.) Cool on rack before removing from the sheet.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

According to the Wikipedia page for the month of March, this is National Nutrition month. March 1st also happens to be National Pancake Day. In complete abandonment of both of these festivals, I made some Creamy Macaroni and Cheese (although I was tempted to ditch my culinary plans and drive over to IHop for some free pancakes).

Instead, I went to the gym and immediately came home to negate it with this dish. As a side note, I broke another sweat (perhaps more than I did on the elliptical machine while engrossed in an arbitrary article from The New Yorker) as I was shredding the cheese for this dish. Prepare yourself. Shredding 15 ounces of cheese is a chore – an arm-tiring, back-cramping chore. If you know of a machine that will shred cheese for you, please tell me. Or, just do me a favor and buy the pre-shredded variety in the store. It is worth the extra two-bucks. I may not be able to use my right arm tomorrow . . .

So, Happy National Nutrition Month! And let’s plan on celebrating pancake day later on in March, ok? And I will leave you with this other fun fact from the Wikipedia page: “March starts on the same day of the week as November every year and February in common years only. March ends on the same day of the week as June every year.” That is a Jeopardy clue waiting to happen.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted From Southern Living All-Time Favorites, published in 2009 -- I could not find the link for this cookbook and all the Southern Living cookbooks on Amazon have a different cover. This cover has a slice of raspberry cheesecake and is a great cookbook so if you find it, snag one!

8 ounces elbow macaroni
¼ cup butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup milk
½ (10-ounce) block extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (or any combination of cheeses -- I threw in some Gouda as well)
1 (10-ounce) block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in flour until smooth; cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in salt and next three ingredients. Gradually whisk in half-and-half and milk; cook, whisking constantly, 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened.
Stir in extra-sharp cheese and half of the sharp cheese until smooth. Remove from heat.
Combine pasta and cheese mixture, and pour into a lightly greased(8-inch square) baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. (I mixed in some leftover Gouda I had -- just to increase my shredding time -- so I think this recipe is fairly adaptable.)
Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Bake 15 more for a crusty top.

Makes 6 servings.