Just a Typical Friday

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I’m not sure what your normal Friday looks like, but mine is usually full of catch-up chores and projects to get ready for the weekend. I don’t usually work on Fridays, so I try to make time to play in the kitchen along with the other things I have to get done.

Today I have been to the store to pick up ingredients for a date night dinner with Rich. Calvin is spending the night with my parents and Rich and I are cooking dinner together and then going out on the town. Don’t get too excited – the going out includes shopping for a new mailbox. But do get excited about our dinner. I am. We are having Cornish game hens roasted on a bed of apples and shallots, a red rice and kamut medley and caramelized acorn squash. They are all experiments, but if they turn out I’ll post recipes and methods soon.

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I have cinnamon almond ice cream churning right now and there is butter softening on the counter for chocolate chip cookies. Both are for tomorrow’s delayed family celebration of Rich’s birthday. The ice cream is another experiment, so if it turns out I’ll be posting that one too.

I also have injera batter fermenting on the counter and plans to make a starter for an Austrian buckwheat bread tonight. Tomorrow I am leading a bread baking session to make several kinds of bread for World Communion celebrations at our church on Sunday. We have done this for the last several years and it is always fun. The picture at the top of the post is the selection from last year – we made a Xichuan flatbread, sorghum rolls and a round schiacciata.

I enjoy the challenge of finding recipes to use every year. It is always a lesson in planning to figure out the timing on three different breads so that we can make them in a couple of hours, with one oven and one stovetop. This year we are making Ethiopian injera, Austrian buckwheat bread and Persian flat bread.

Baking, cooking and experimenting. Yep, that pretty much sums up my usual Friday. What are your plans for Friday and this weekend?

Date Night Continued – Citrus Shrimp and Quinoa

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We decided to go all out when we were cooking for our date night last weekend and have both an appetizer and an entrée. Our vanilla scallops were such a success that we were sure our shrimp and quinoa couldn’t compete. We were wrong. While not as different as the scallops, it was still as elegant and delicious as any restaurant meal we have had, and we didn’t have to pay restaurant prices or deal with weekend crowds.

Citrus abounds in the stores these days, so I decided to use both a lemon and a tangerine in the shrimp and the quinoa. I was going to make rice, but we eat a lot of rice and I had some quinoa on hand that I had bought and never used. Since we were already in an adventurous mood with the scallops, I decided to continue the theme and try the quinoa.

Everything came together smoothly, with only a few glitches due to making up a recipe as I was cooking it. I should have prepped the citrus before I started cooking the garlic, but I managed to save it before it got too brown. As long as you follow the directions, you won’t be scrambling like I was. Learn from my experience, young grasshopper.

The quinoa turned out nice and fluffy, with the citrus tartness complementing its inherent nuttiness. The shrimp was fabulous with just a touch of garlic, white wine and sweet tart citrus. Not a bad combination to brighten a dark, cold February evening.

Download or print the recipe here.

Citrus Shrimp and Quinoa
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2, easy to double

1 large lemon
1 tangerine or small orange
1½ cups water, approximately
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup quinoa
salt
pepper
8 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
2-4 tablespoons white wine, optional

Zest the lemon and tangerine, using only the colored portion of the peel and not the bitter white parts. If you don’t have a zester, use the finest side of a box grater. Set the zest aside. Cut the lemon in half and juice half of it into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Cut the other lemon half into wedges and set aside. Juice the tangerine into the same measuring cup. Add water until you have 2 cups of liquid. Set aside. Mince the garlic and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add half the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the juice and water mixture and bring liquid to a boil.  Add quinoa, half of the reserved zest, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is light and fluffy.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the shrimp and the remaining garlic. Cook shrimp 2-4 minutes before turning over. Add a splash of white wine to the pan, if desired, and cook for 2-4 more minutes. Squeeze half of the reserved lemon wedges over the shrimp, reserving the rest for serving. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt, pepper and the remaining citrus zest.

Serve shrimp over the quinoa, with lemon wedges on the side.

Date Night Vanilla Scented Scallops

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Rich and I were footloose and fancy free on Friday night since Calvin was spending the night with my parents. We wanted something different for dinner, but we weren’t sure we wanted to go out. We figured everywhere would be crowded with regular weekend crowds and Valentine’s Day dates. One thing led to another and I decided we should have a scallop appetizer before a shrimp and quinoa main course. Who says we can’t make a fancy dinner for ourselves?

Fresh seafood can be an iffy proposition in the Midwest, depending on the source. I almost always rely on frozen fish. We do have a lovely seafood market not far from home, and I decided to splurge on fresh scallops for our date night. I did use frozen shrimp since we already had some in the freezer (more on the shrimp soon).

Calvin and I made Rich some vanilla salt for a Christmas present a couple of years ago. I had seen vanilla salt in a specialty store and couldn’t believe what they wanted to charge for it. Rich loves vanilla, and I thought we could come up with some great recipes to use vanilla salt, so I decided we should make our own. We ground up a vanilla bean in the food processor, stirred it up in some fine sea salt and put it in a nice jar. Rich was thrilled, but then we were stumped about what to do with it. Finally, two years later, I was going to use it on our scallops.

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I have seen scallops with vanilla sauce on various restaurant menus, and have sampled them once. The vanilla nicely complements the sweet overtones of the scallops without taking the sweetness into the realms of a weird dessert/appetizer hybrid. I decided to let our scallops stand mostly on their own, with a sprinkling of the vanilla salt and a touch of butter and vanilla extract drizzled over their tops.

I had never cooked scallops before, so I looked up a bunch of recipes. It sounded like you couldn’t go wrong, unless you overcooked them and made them rubbery. I should have been a little more fearless with letting the hot pan do the work. I was worried I would overcook them, but they were perfect – sweet, tender, slightly caramelized and lightly fragrant with vanilla. In short, a perfect start to our date night dinner.

Download or print the recipe here.

Seared Vanilla Scented Scallops
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2, easy to double

6 large bay scallops
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
vanilla salt (or regular salt)
black pepper
2 teaspoons butter
1/8-1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, use the larger amount if you are using regular salt

Pat scallops dry and set aside. Lightly coat a medium skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high heat until almost smoking.

Carefully place scallops in hot pan, putting them flat side down. Do not try to move the scallops after you set them down. Let scallops cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. They should release fairly easily from the pan at this point. Give them a little help with a thin spatula and turn them over. If they are really stuck, give them a few seconds more to form a crust and then try again.

Sprinkle scallops with vanilla salt, or regular salt, and pepper. Cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more, until that side is nicely caramelized and releases from the pan with a little help. Remove scallops to a serving plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add butter and vanilla extract to skillet. Scrape up any browned bits and stir into the butter. Drizzle butter over the scallops and serve immediately.

Date Night Flatbread Pizzas

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Rich and I had planned to go out to dinner last night and then maybe to a movie. Calvin has the day off from school today and had an overnight last night with my parents, so we were footloose and fancy free. Of course, when it came time to pick a restaurant, Rich and I were clueless. Even after running through a litany of old favorites and new possibilities, we ended up with a big, fat zero. The process of choosing was stressing us out, so we decided to stop trying to force it and make something at home instead.

Flatbread pizzas had caught my eye on several of the menus we perused. I do find that name kind of funny, and even redundant – what is a pizza, if not a flatbread, after all? But it is a recognizable thing on restaurant menus, so I’ll stick with the name, even if it offends my literal tendencies just a little bit.

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I mixed up our standby whole wheat pizza dough and let it rise while we concocted and gathered the rest of the ingredients. We had one shallot, which I decided to caramelize. It was as easy as pie to let it slowly transform to a lovely golden brown in the pan while we worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not sure why I have never caramelized shallots before, though if I had, we would have realized that a trip to the store for a few more would have been worth it. We both agreed we wanted at least twice as many shallots on our flatbreads.

In addition to the shallots, we used Jarlsberg, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little diced chicken breast from the freezer, fresh rosemary from my plant in the flowerbed, thinly sliced apple, garlic and olive oil.

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We made one flatbread with garlic, rosemary, chicken and mozzarella, one with rosemary, garlic and all the cheeses and two with apple, Jarlsberg and shallots. They were as good as some restaurant flatbread pizzas we have had. And we got to make them with exactly the toppings we wanted.

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Our evening was a little more low key than our original plans, but we weren’t complaining. We got a cozy evening together, cooking, eating and spending time doing exactly what we wanted – sounds like a perfect date night to me.