No. 017: SEARED SCALLOPS & CHIMICHURRI

For a bit over three months, a beautiful and heavy Himalayan salt block has been sitting on my dinning table, waiting impatiently to change surfaces from a Norwegian pre-assembled tabletop to a German built furnace. It was giving to me as a christmas present; when I first got it there was an excitement around the novelty of this object and I just spent hours over the internet, reading and watching instructional videos about its usage, maintenance, suggestions and even some recipes. A few interesting facts about salt blocks worth knowing for all of you interested in acquiring one; the dense crystalline composition, 95-98% sodium chloride, plus ten other mineral- add complex flavor to all kind of food and meats, it is naturally anti-microbial and the cleanest salt in the world, it can be used for both hot and cold servings, and lastly, it builds a patina, meaning it will change in coloration over time and use.

To use it, imagine as if it were a iron skillet or any other sauce-pan, place it directly on top of a grill or stove-top and cook over it, no seasoning needed, of course. For tonight's recipe and the first use of the salt block, I opted for seafood, it makes sense to pair the salinity and natural seasoning with some form of fish and its original color reminds me of either tuna steak or salmon, so that makes the association even stronger. Scallops have a very strong sea flavor to them, to which case a chimichurri sauce with the garlic and a touch of white wine vinegar, evens out the palette at the end. I will also demonstrate the same recipe with an alternate of pan searing, because not everybody has salt block laying around the kitchen.

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INGREDIENTS

For the Chimichurri:
1 cup of parsley
2 tbsps oregano
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 tsp red pepper flakes
6 U-10 Sea scallops

First off, place the salt block over the stove-top and heat up at medium flame; depending on the width, it could take more or less time, mine is 2" so a good 20-25 minutes will do. To ensure its at prime point, let a drop of water touch the surface, if it evaporates immediately, then its hot enough to cook over it.

Finely chop the parsley, the oregano and the garlic. On a bowl, mix olive oil, white wine vinegar and red pepper flakes; incorporate the leaves into it and mix until the greens are coated with a thick layer of oil. As a recommendation, (or as a matter of personal like) chimichurri always tastes better either the next day or a couple hours after preparation, because then all the flavors come to closure together after a long time. 

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If you're using the salt block, don't season the scallops, instead, just drizzle a bit of olive oil to them and place on the block. Always place your scallops clockwise, since it doesn't take much time to cook before they start getting chewy (approx. 4-5 min. each side), so one can remember which to turn first and follow a sequence. For a sauce pan, its the same process, but you do have to season the scallops with salt, pepper and old bay, melt butter with a drizzle of olive oil on the pan and cook accordingly. 

To plate, simply serve a bit of the chimichurri either under or on top of the scallops, straight of the hot pan. 

Salt Block version

Salt Block version

Pan seared version

Pan seared version

This definitely is a quick, elegant and very delicious recipe to impress dinner guests or even yourself. The main difference I noticed for the salt block on the scallops, is that it cooks them very tender and without a slightly burnt crust on the borders, and the flavor added to it by the salt itself is indeed very complex, I can't really identify specific notes.

Thank you for reading, keep posted on new articles and recipes!

See you next Tuesday, Tasty Tuesday!

- M 

No. 016: POULET BASQUAISE

"No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing." 

Julia Child is right, and this is perfectly applicable to any other circumstance in one's life -screw up, learn from mistakes and most importantly, have fun. Even the greatest start of late, it wasn't until her mid 30s and after moving to France, when Mrs. Child began her fascination with haute cuisine and french culture. Now, if you've seen a certain movie starring the delightful Meryl Streep, then you probably know in a broad sense her process from just being a diplomat's wife to becoming an American food institution. The passion and fun she infused into every one her recipes and dishes is one of my key drivers when I'm cooking; in a way, I try not to take myself so seriously in the kitchen, as I generally kind of do in the rest of my life. That being said, I choose a simple, traditional and very flavorful recipe for tonight -and one of Julia's favorites, in the hopes to convince myself more and more to plan a vacation to Paris and drive down to Provence and the south coast, drinking wine and eating amazing food along the way.

INGREDIENTS

4 full chicken leg pieces (drumstick + thighs)    
1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
1 garlic clove
Olive oil
1/4 tsp basil
Salt and pepper

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and in a saucepan, add a bit olive oil and brown it, skin down, for about 7-8 minutes, set aside. Slice the onion, the garlic and the peppers, and on the same pan, add a bit of butter and fry in medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and basil and cook until the liquid is reduce to at least half. Stir in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the flavor, and reduce for a bit.

Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook at low heat for about 25-30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare rice pilaf as the side dish, the process is similar to quinoa, let water simmer until the rice acquires the desired fluff. Lay a bed of rice on a plate, place a chicken piece, pour sauce atop et voilà!

The chicken's dark meat tends to be the richest in flavor and the process of slow-cooking it in a thick tomato and onion sauce, makes it more flavorful and incredibly tender; the meat literally falls from the bone and melts in each bite. A variation of the side of rice, which I thought of while eating, that would go nicely with the poulet is simmering it with a bit of saffron like in a paella; a nice presentation in color, texture and scent.

Thank you as always for reading, and see you next Tuesday, Tasty Tuesday!

- M 


 

No. 015: NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER

You'd be surprised how simple it is to make a good bowl of chowder, the stove does all the work and you just have to sit down, relax and wait to eat it. Just as promised last week - straight to the good stuff.

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INGREDIENTS

2 cans of clams (5 oz) with juice reserved
3 large potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
5 bacon strips
1 medium onion
Old Bay seasoning

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Start off by frying the bacon until crispy. Set aside on a paper-covered plate. Peel the potatoes and cut into large cubes. Chop the onion, and on a large pot, drain the bacon fat and cook the onion until transparent.

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Add the potatoes and the clam juice, stir to avoid them of sticking together. Cover and boil for 20 minutes, or until they're tender to the fork.

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Add the clams, heavy cream and milk to the pot and stir together. Season with Old Bay. Cover the pot and let cook for 40-45 minutes or until it reaches the desired thickness, the secret for it relies on stirring every now and then while its cooking. Cut the bacon into smaller pieces. Serve a couple spoonfuls in a bowl and top with the bacon. You're welcome!  

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For it being the first attempt at a chowder, the results stand up pretty well to the challenge; perhaps fresher clams, more cream instead of milk, definitely more Old Bay to season, but in overall, this is a far simple version and a quick, easy one to prepare as well.
*Disclaimer: the original recipe would include celery and carrots, but I preferred to skip the vegetables and dig into a potato and clam heavy soup.

See you next tuesday, Tasty Tuesday!

- M
 

72 HOURS IN BOSTON

"In Boston they ask, how much does he know? In New York, how much is he worth? In Philadelphia, who were his parents?" - Mark Twain.

Point well taken by Mr. Twain above. One of the traits (or curses) of becoming a new yorker, consists on comparing several aspects of the city you're visiting to New York, whether its the public transportation, cultural institutions, landmarks, culinary and entertainment offer, or just how many trash is on the streets, one is always trying to figure out if you'd be better off in another city than the empire state. I took advantage of presidents' day holiday plus a couple of days off from work to arrange a quick trip to the 'beantown' - a destination which has been on my travel agenda for 2 years now, but couldn't follow through either because of time, work, or not being 'fit' for it (that's code for too hangover to travel). It's a 4-hour bus drive from near the Javitz Center to South Station, with a 'rest' stop nowhere in Connecticut. Since the plan called for this trip to be low-budget, I resourced the cheapest mean of transportation and lodging -booked a sofa bed in Cambridge through Airbnb, great deal and awesome hosts.

SUNDAY
Noon. Drop off bags at the apartment, hungry as a wolf, walked around to find a local grub spot. Cambridge is a college town, home of prestigious institutions like Harvard and M.I.T. (to which I joke its my alma mater) but is a very low-rise, low-density, suburbia-esque urban setting; so everything is a little bit more dispersed and not as immediate as in NY but well within walking distance.

Rustic Apple Tart.

Rustic Apple Tart.

I found a place called Flour (190 Massachusetts Ave.) a local chain, coffee-shop and bakery which makes hearty sandwiches and salads, as well as fresh pastries. "Make life sweeter...eat dessert first!" is their proud slogan, and with 4 locations expanding through Boston, its becoming a popular and loved little restaurant. I tried the roast chicken, brie, caramelized onions and roasted peppers sandwich -I thought the brie was an interesting choice of cheese, was a little doubtful of how its creamy and stuffed texture would pair with the onions and peppers, which were also very soft but it was such a thin layer of it, and not an over-powering flavor as other cheeses could be, so every element in the sandwich was in place. After that, I toured M.I.T. inside out and as a good architect, took photos of every single historic building and modern masterpiece of the campus -Baker House, Eero Saarinen's Chapel, Steven Holl's dorms, I.M. Pei's green building and Killian Court.

'Proud Alumni'

'Proud Alumni'

The campus stretches along Massachusetts avenue and sits right off the bridge over the Charles River which connects Cambridge and Boston. Since the sun was out, I crossed a frozen Charles river and ventured into Beacon Hill and the Back Bay, where you can find Boston's iconic brownstones, colonial row houses, brick sidewalks, narrow alleyways, and iron work. This area is still residential, but Newbury Street has evolved into a commercial, retail and culinary destination strip. The further you walk northeast, you'll find designer boutiques and good restaurants leading up to Boston Commons Park -the main public park and plaza.

Row House sunset.

Row House sunset.

Close to dinnertime, I took the bus towards the South End, the city's most up and coming neighborhood, where are the art galleries, residential development and restaurants are opening, to dine in a particular place called Toro (1704 Washington Street) a spanish tapas themed spot with a recent outpost in West Chelsea, NY. It was incredibly crowded for a sunday night but managed to squeeze in and get a sit at the bar. The menu offers some of the classic tapas - patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, datiles con jamon, etc, but there are a couple items that stand out -like the Pato con membrillo, which are smoked duck drumettes, glazed in a sweet sauce, the spring rabbit paella and the Costilla de Buey, which I ordered. It consists of a beef short rib, glazed in Kabayaki sauce and served with a fresh salad of farro, cucumbers and radish.

Matador Wallpaper

Matador Wallpaper

The meat was so tender it came off from the bone in a single bite. The most interesting feature of this dish is indeed the kabayaki sauce, a sweet, soy-based sauce used to cook fish and eel in Japanese cuisine. I'm always reluctant of adding or covering beef with any kind of sauce but since the meat is sourced from the cow's male counterpart, it naturally has a stronger flavor, which the sauce definitely helped tone done into a more enjoyable dish. Pairing my tapas with a solid Rioja wine was a good way to wrap up my first day in town. Also be advised that most bars close at 2 am, public transportation stops running past 12 am, and taxis are all full at those times, so always plan ahead your night out.

MONDAY (PRESIDENTS' DAY)
Tying to make the most out of another sunny day, I opted for a quick coffee and en routed towards Harvard University. The yard is the main square where the first year dorms, library and chapel are organized around; just walking through the tree-lined boulevards and gazing over the hundreds years old brick buildings made me feel smarter than I am in a very prestigious way. It is a personal ambition to pursue a mba from this very institution, so I instantly fell in love with the environment and even stroked John Harvard's foot for good luck. Its great architecture transcends eras, one can find modernist building from Le Corbusier and the brutalist expression of Gund Hall, where in the most casual and coincidental way I bumped into a former work colleague who's studying his M.arch program.

HBS - Future School

HBS - Future School

Needless to say the college culture expands outside the campus and into the Harvard Square which is a retail and entertainment component frequented by the students, locals and visitors and very known for its restaurants and pubs. Sat down at Russell House Tavern (14 John F. Kennedy Street) for a late brunch and a beer; while the pub is at street level, the restaurant component is set below on the cellar, where you can find a more quite ambience, as well as proud visiting parents and families. For brunch, their speciality are eggs -any way, on anything, but since its a tavern, the draught list is a can't-miss; always ask the bartender for what they're serving on cask at the moment, as the taps are changed every thursday with great new selection of local beers.

Good Burger

Good Burger

3 hour lunch and 4 pints of cask beer later, I made my way to the historic trail downtown, touching down iconic places like Quincy Market, Paul Revere house, and Faneuil Hall; I have very little patience for history and this particular trail -if walked in its entirety- is about 2 miles, something than in extreme cold weather seemed rather discouraging, so I returned to my temporary HQ for a power nap and later on headed to Area Four (500 Technology Square) for a late night grub. I read about this place as one of the best pizza spots in town, and with the mandatory thing to ask for fried eggs as a toping. The pizza is procured to be served as a wood-fired, crisp crust from a 12-year old starter sourdough, handcrafted cheese, and scrumptious toppings which resembles in essence to a Neapolitan pizza- you can definitely appreciate the simplicity and thought put into it. I devoured  the Sausage and banana peppers pizza like a champ, but another great suggestion from the guys at the restaurant was the Clam  + bacon.

Menu

Menu

TUESDAY (snow-day)
Last day to do finish the sight-seeing checklist: visited all 3 major museums (MFA, ICA and Stewart) on record time of half-day, just before the snowstorm hit, which surprised me on the North End docks -not the best place to be especially because the bay gets all the terrible weather conditions. I sought refuge indoors and food, and ended up at a place called Yankee Lobster (300 Northern Avenue). On the outside and inside, you wouldn't give 2 cents for this establishment, the name doesn't do much favor but you get a bang for your buck and the kitchen has an incredible taste for everything they serve, fresh catch of the day and simple, well executed seafood dishes. I went overboard and asked for lobster roll, clam chowder and crab cakes, washed down with local Harpoon IPA, and as mentioned before, it offers fair price in comparison to the other restaurants along the North End. Later I learned it is a classic Boston institution and has a amazing summertime outdoor terrace and a market; not to mention, located conveniently close to the Harpoon Brewery.

Lobsta Roll.

Lobsta Roll.

Closer to the end of the day, I met up with my former colleague for a few drinks and food at an Irish bar he frequents with his roommates, The Druid (1357 Cambridge Street). Located at the heart of Inman Square, Cambridge's epicenter of pubs and restaurants, the pub stands out from all others; its small and cozy, they play live Irish music every other night, proudly serves Guinness and Magners, and the best of all, over-the-top pub food. Overall, flavor in british food is generally absent, but the New England interpretation of fish and chips, shepherd's pie and beef stew makes you forget about any historic references and nationalistic ties. My friend Brian suggested to order the beef stew and warned me that it wasn't much of a stew but like a roast, a thick, hearty and meaty bowl of soup; and it fact, it was a large bowl with huge, tender pieces of angus meat, potatoes and carrots drenched in a bath of beef juice, onions, flour, butter and steak sauce. I had the most fun there and its a true gem, hole in the wall type of spot, where locals and collegiate collide and almost like in the TV show Cheers -a place where everybody knows your name. 

Luck of the Irish.

Luck of the Irish.

As always, every great journey must come to an end; left the next day back home, and even though I covered all of the must-do's and great spots, I'm eager to go back and really immerse in the sublayer of social, cultural, bar and restaurant life this city has to offer. Hope you find this story as a helpful guide and encourages you to visit sometime soon.

Thanks for reading, and you can find the follow-up recipe to this trip next week -I have so many things to choose from, so excited for it!

See you next tuesday, Tasty Tuesday.

- M