Scallops with Orange-Caramel Sauce

We told you a couple of weeks ago about Dorie Greenspan's amazing cookbook Around My French Table, and the bloggers' group that we take part in, French Fridays with Dorie. Well, we did our own unofficial French Friday with Dorie - so unofficial it wasn't even Friday. And it wasn't the recipe of the week, but one that caught our eye when we first flipped through the book, even more so after we found some gorgeously enormous diver sea scallops at our local fishmonger's. 

It's scallops with caramel-orange sauce, and it's delicious, simple to make, and results in an elegant meal when paired with haricot verts (so French!!!) or your favorite side. We'll give you our unofficial version of the recipe through pictures and notes, but again, you really should buy this book! And no, we are not getting paid to tell you that!

Make a caramel by heating sugar over medium heat:

Carefully add white wine and orange juice, stir well, and boil until reduced by half;
then remove from heat and set aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper and sear them on both sides
in a hot pan with a little olive oil.

Swirl some cold unsalted butter into the caramel sauce to finish it and
season it with a little salt and pepper.

Plate your scallops by pouring the sauce over them
and serving with some haricot verts or asparagus.

Go buy Around My French Table!


A Spring Afternoon in Boston's North End

Tourists, locals and college students alike flock to the North End of Boston for great Italian food. However, a spot on Cooking Channel's Unique Eats seafood episode drew us past Bacco's and Al Dente and straight to Neptune Oyster for some amazing fresh seafood.

The plate glass window with Neptune's trident is the tell-tale sign that we've arrived at our desired location. The oyster shucker/tender of the raw bar inside that window, silently shucking briny oysters and clams, and arranging Jonah crab claws in a gorgeous pattern, tells us all we need to know. We step in the small doorway and out of the windy sunshine. The place is much smaller than we had anticipated, and crowded, even at the later-than-usual 2:00 lunch hour. Men in suits are lined up at the bar slurping their way through a choice of over a dozen different types of oysters, from both coasts.

The (only) server/host offers us a table as soon as one opens up. Friendly, accomodating and certainly enthusiastic, he makes our exquisite lunch all the more enjoyable with his affable nature. He pours water out of a large, wide-mouthed jar and gives us just enough time to peruse the menu. Chris is all about the oysters, and orders a surprisingly few six, two each of three types of Atlantics, to start. Succulent and perfectly shucked, they are served with (in the end unnecessary) mignonette and cocktail sauces. Amy, ever the meat lover, recalls the spot on t.v. and craves the "Neptunes on Piggyback" - described on the menu as "crispy oysters, Berkshire pig, golden raisin confiture, pistachio aioli" - a layered concoction that seems like it shouldn't work. But it sooooo does. The flavors are as layered as the dish, the textures balanced, and even though there are only two, Amy offers one to Chris and immediately wishes she hadn't.

For the main event, Amy wants lobster, and the hot buttered lobster roll with fries calls her name. The second-largest lobster roll she's ever seen (the first being a gluttonous 3-footer in Maine) arrives, accompanied by freshly cut, crispy, salty French fries. Chris chooses the "North End Cioppino," New England's answer to the San Francisco classic - a spicy fish stew made with grilled fish, huge shrimp, and plenty of clams and mussels, served over saffron rice. Chris asks for bread, server smiles and says, "Let me toast some up for you," and returns within minutes. We dig in and stop talking until we're done because everything is that good.

Once done, we pay and thank and return to join the throngs of people lining the sidewalks of the North End. Although we are satiated (read: stuffed), being who we are, food is not far from our minds. Next door (or maybe two doors down), we spot Lulu's Sweet Shoppe. Amy cries, "Cupcakes!!! Yay!!!" We each buy one; Amy's goes in a little box for later, Chris eats his right away (offering a little taste that Amy can't resist). Yummy stuff. We pass Modern Pastry. Since it's Holy Thursday, the line is half a block past the door. Good thing we got cupcakes because cannoli seem out of the question for now. Next stop? Salumeria Italiana, another tiny location crammed with locals stocking up for the holiday. But this time we'll wait, patiently. The speck, guanciale, 24-month aged prosciutto and amazing citrus oils are worth it.

Now we're stocked up as well, so we take the long way, walking through the neighborhood back to our car. The sun is shining, our bellies are full and we have treats for later.

Life is good.
Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon


Easter Treats

Easter dinner at Chris's family's started in the late afternoon, leaving us plenty of time during the day to make our Easter treats. For the first two, we utilized our new favorite ingredient bought during a recent trip to Boston (more on Beantown coming this week): Boyajian pure citrus oils (they are amazing).

First, with our newly-gained eclair-making skills and lemon oil for flavoring, we made "Easter Eclairs" with lemon pastry cream and glaze. They look small because they are; we needed plenty to feed the crowd, and got 45 out of one recipe batch! They were a hit!

Next, since the pastry cream for eclairs calls for egg yolks, we used the remaining egg whites to whip up a batch of meringues using Grandma's recipe but substituting lime oil for the vanilla extract and leaving out the chocolate chips. Tangy, light and tasty!

Finally, because we just had to make Easter eggs, we made the cover recipe from the cookbook Culinary Tea in which you soak hard-boiled eggs in a liquid made with brown sugar, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, and of course tea. Alas, as usual, we lacked patience and ours did not come out quite as pretty as theirs, but next time we will crack a little harder and soak a little longer.

Happy Easter and happy spring, everyone!


Our First French Friday with Dorie: Eclairs

Around Christmas, using some deep-discount coupon plus book rewards points, and justified as a present to "A Couple in the Kitchen," Amy bought the gorgeous then-new cookbook by author Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table.  And are we ever glad she did. This is perhaps the most well-written, instructive, helpful and simply beautiful cookbook we own, bar none. A feast for the eyes and the foodie soul, this book, not only offers recipes, but hints, advice, and variations or suggestions for making the author's recipes your own, all with the expertise that comes from her many years of living in France. 

About a month after buying the book, we learned of the bloggers' group "French Fridays with Dorie," in which food blog enthusiasts vote on and make one recipe from the book each week and then blog about it on "French Fridays." This week is the first time we've had the time/means/energy to participate and boy did we choose a "doozie."  For this week's recipe is not just one recipe, but three recipes in one! To make eclairs, one must make the pastry itself, the pastry cream, and the glaze for the top. And it's a dessert, which means we have to bake!  (And we're not really known for our baking skills).


To wit, it took us two evenings to make our eclairs. Not because of lack of time, but because the first night, we experienced Pastry Cream Fail. Yeah...we didn't boil the pastry cream quite long enough, so when we went to fill the eclairs, we had cream that was runny, loose, and tasted like corn starch. Not good. A bit frustrated, we stored our not-perfect-but-tasty pastries in an air-tight container and left the project for the next evening.


Meanwhile, Chris spoke to one of the chefs at his school, which has an amazing culinary program. He told Chris where we went wrong, and that night, we were back on task. We even did a little innovating with our recipe, adding a couple of teaspoons of Grand Marnier to our pastry cream, and making a chocolate ganache instead of the usual confectionary-sugar glaze for the top. Who doesn't love orange and chocolate?!?


The recipe (page 473 - buy the book. Really!) makes 20 eclairs, which the two of us certainly have no business eating. So we shared - a couple went to D and J, a couple went across the street to the "Bagel Fairy" who puts bagels in our mailbox on Sunday mornings, a bunch went to Amy's school (shhh...don't tell about the Grand Marnier!), and of course, one went to Chef. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we were quite proud of ourselves for (finally...) making a successful pastry from scratch. Thanks, Dorie!


Cajun Clams

One food Amy missed while living in New Orleans is clams. While NOLA was an amazing place for seafood, they didn't serve clams. Oysters? Sure. Shrimp? Tons of 'em. Crawfish? Catfish? Crab? Check, check and check. But clams? Nowhere to be found. Back in Connecticut, however, clams are common and we're glad for that. Last week, we bought some steamers and littlenecks and made them, Cajun style.

Our NOLA-fied inspiration was two gorgeous links of andouille sausage Amy's mom bought us from Pekarski's Sausage in South Deerfield, Massachusetts (they don't have a website, but you can read about Pekarski's here). The other ingredients we chose because they enhance the fabulous flavors found in andouille, are typical ingredients in Cajun-style cooking, and/or they add a touch of pretty color to the dish. For our liquid, we used a pale ale, but only because we can't find Abita Turbodog here in New England. If it's not one thing, it's another!

2 links andouille sausage
1 pound steamer clams
1 pound littleneck clams
1 cup chopped Vidalia onion
1 small yellow bell pepper, roasted, then chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup chopped sweet potato
1 bottle of pale ale
small bunch chives (chopped) for garnish

Brown the sausage over high heat on all sides, then cut it into rounds. Place the sausage and remaining ingredients (except chives) in a large pot and cook, covered, over high heat for 10-15 minutes, until clams open. Garnish with chopped chives and serve with crusty French bread and ice cold beer. 


Quick Cuban Pork with Spicy Black Beans

Amy writes:
I remember the first time I tried Cuban pork. Chris was living in Hartford at the time and we were dating. I used to drive down I-91 from Chicopee to visit, and our dates usually revolved around food (shocking, isn't it?). There was a restaurant across from the Trinity College campus called Timothy's that was in walkable distance from Chris's apartment. It was a quaint, charming place beloved by locals, particularly the college crowd, and we went there often. It was there that I fell in love with Cuban pork the first time I had it. The second time? Not so much, see, that was one of the problems with Timothy's - inconsistency. I wanted the Cuban pork to be exactly like the first time, and it never was...ever again. It disappointed me every time, and so I finally stopped ordering it and tried other things whenever we went there, but I never forgot that Cuban pork.

And last week I found myself thinking about it, once again. Timothy's has since closed, so it's not like we could even try it there, and we couldn't think of a place nearby that serves it. Not that it mattered. I was determined to recreate the dish in my own kitchen. Unfortunately, my lack of patience got the best of me this time. I wanted Cuban pork and I wanted it right then. We did not allow enough time for marinating, and we browned the pork on the stovetop rather than roasting it; therefore it was a bit dry. But it was a decent first attempt, flavorful and well-seasoned, and worked well for a quick weeknight dinner. What we did is below if you'd like to try it. But don't worry...we'll keep at it. The perfect Cuban pork will come to us. Let us know if you have any tips or suggestions.

Quick Cuban Pork

1 1/2-pound boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut the pork tenderloin into strips lengthwise, then place in a large plastic bag. Place remaining ingredients (except olive oil) in plastic bag and marinate for two hours. Remove pork strips and discard remaining marinade. Put a large cast iron pan over high heat and brown the pork strips on all sides; remove from pan and place onto a cutting board. Using two forks, shred the cooked pork. Reheat the pan and add the olive oil. Add shredded pork to the pan and fry for 3-4 minutes until meat is dark brown and slightly crispy. Serve with black beans (recipe below).

Strips of pork

Shredded pork

Spicy Black Beans

1 15.5-ounce can black beans
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and cook for 10-15 minutes.


Cocktail Hour: Sweet Moonlight

Chris writes:
I like Absinthe. I mean really like it. But it has to be the real stuff from the Czech Republic or some other post-Soviet country. A place where they understand that sometimes you drink to make your life seem better - and Absinthe can do just that. It has an unbelievably high alcohol content (160-180 proof) combined with a musty/dirty/bitter taste. There really aren't many nice things you can say about Absinthe other than after drinking something so vile and unpleasant you think, "My life may be bad, but its not that bad." I am not saying that Americanized Absinthe like 'Lucid' isn't good, it just misses the loucheness of the real stuff.

In absence of said 'real stuff', I recommend Pastis Absente. It offers the traditional flavors of Absinthe without the crude alcohol overkill. Originally made in France in 1915, Pastis Absente is similar to Turkish Raki or Bulgarian Mustika. It has the flavors of star anise, sage, cardamom and black pepper found in Italian Sambuca - but is nowhere as sweet; just pure sharp flavor.

One way to balance the strength of the flavors is to mix the alcohol with cold water that has been slowly dripped over a sugar cube. This can be a tedious ritual and calls for specialized equipment. My recipe (below) introduces a little simple syrup along with lemon to offset the harshness and brighten the dank flavors. When mixed with water the Pastis becomes milky opaque with yellow green hues. Just like the moonlight that was scattered across our lawn the night this drink was created. Enjoy.

1 measure simple syrup
1 1/2 measures Pastis
1/2 measure water
splash lemon juice

Pour all ingredients in order above into a tall glass over ice.


Meatless Monday: Ginger Pineapple Cashew Fried Rice

Our friend Joanne spent the weekend in Boston and sent a text from Haymarket. "snowpeas, green onions, ginger, garlic, herbs - all around $1 each - what do you want?" With fresh produce this cheap, we texted her back, "bring us whatever you can." Being the great friend she is, Joanne walked back through and made some additional purchases, during which she was robbed. They got her wallet with her ATM card and about $100 cash, but worst of all, they ruined one of her favorite places. Boo!! Hiss!! At least she wasn't hurt.

On Monday, Joanne delivered our goody-bag of produce, for which we were very grateful. During lunch, Amy peeked inside, wondering what she could make from it, as if she were on her own version of Chopped, and this was her basket of ingredients: a pound of snowpeas, a bunch of green onions, two ginger roots, two 1/2-pints of blueberries, 4 orange peppers, a few stalks of rosemary, a bunch of fresh thyme. The idea for a ginger fried rice started brewing. A stop at the market on the way home for a pineapple, and this week's Meatless Monday dish was born. Thank you, Joanne! We're so sorry that happened to you.


1 1/4 cup basmati (or other long-grain) rice
1 3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 pound fresh snowpeas
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
salt to taste
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup cashew nuts

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Place rice and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat a wok over medium heat until very hot. Pour oil into the wok and tilt it so all sides are coated with the oil. Add the ginger, green onions, snowpeas, carrots and salt, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the rice to the wok and stir-fry until the rice begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sesame oil, pineapple and cashew nuts, and stir-fry another 2-3 minutes. Serve and enjoy!


Baked Eggs with Thyme

We're not sure were the past two weeks went. We'll just blame it on March, that long, dreary, cold, blustery month without a single holiday that seems like it will never end. But finally, it did. Now the sun is shining, April vacation is around the corner and we're back in our creative cooking moods. Yesterday, the calendar was clear. Not an errand to run nor meeting to attend, so we took advantage of the free time by cooking up two new recipes. The first was a breakfast dish we're calling Baked Eggs with Thyme. Since we tend toward frying our eggs on a stovetop griddle, unless we're making a frittata, we've never baked our eggs before. These were fluffy, flavorful little things and we'd definitely experiment with this recipe again.


4 large eggs
4 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Place rack approximately six inches below heat and preheat broiler. Take two small bowls and crack two eggs into each bowl, taking care not to break the yolks. Place two oven-safe dishes on a baking sheet. Pour 2 tablespoons of half and half and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish. Place these under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until they are bubbling hot. Remove from the oven and quickly pour the two cracked eggs into each dish. Sprinkle with the thyme, parmesan, salt and pepper, and return to the oven. Broil for 4-5 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are cooked. Allow to set for a minute then serve, either in the baking dish or by carefully taking them out (as we did), with your favorite breakfast side dishes.