Tossed and turned by life and weather; nevertheless we persisted in cooking
The tidal wave of unprecedented events in 2020 threatened to completely overwhelm us in December, so we retreated to the kitchen and cooked up our own storm of wonderful meals, topped off with a fabulous scallop dish on Christmas Day. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m focused on the task at hand; sadness, anger, loneliness, wistfulness – all shrink to to nothingness while slicing, dicing, chopping, mixing, searing, sauteing, baking, boiling, plating, and finally, eating. Maybe the title for this blog should be “Cooking As Therapy?” Here are four of my favorite therapy sessions from last month. (Recipes follow the photos and commentary).
Seared Cod with bacon, braised fennel and kale. Well, for many reasons we chose to use turkey bacon instead of pork. The only downside is that no fat renders from the turkey bacon, so we replace the bacon drippings with a little extra olive oil. The only other change we made was to use standard size bell peppers, so the presentation is off a bit, but the taste remains the same. As you can see, we also added some roasted Brussels Sprouts, which paired well with the meal.
Mediterranean-Style Stuffed Chicken. Tres’ Elegante! The picture does not do it justice, but this meal is on our shortlist of “Company Worthy” recipes. This is one of the few recipes I don’t mess with, and follow to the T. The make-or-break point is the tapenade. It is a bit tough to find in stores, but easy to make ahead. Here is a recipe from Alton Brown that is very similar to my homemade one. We used farro instead of rice, and served with rainbow chard for a perfect accompaniment.
It can be a bit tricky to slice the chicken breast just right to stuff the zucchini and tapenade, so take your time to get it right. Have fun and enjoy!
White Bean Soup with Tomato and Shrimp. Based on Italian puttanesca recipes, this is one delicious mouthful! It does have a bit of heat from the chili powder and crushed red pepper (not enough for us, so we are generous with the chili powder, and double the crushed red pepper), so be forewarned. The only other change I made was to add a generous portion of Penzy’s Tuscan Sunset, a mix of dried basil, oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise seed. Don’t tell anyone, but this is my secret ingredient to add tons of flavor to a whole host of recipes. Seriously, if you haven’t ordered yours yet, you are missing out … and they have no idea I’m recommending this .
Be sure to pair this with a loaf of crusty artisan bread to soak up all the flavorful broth!
Grilled Scallops with Pea Pesto over Angel Hair Pasta is the pièce de résistance from our adventures in the kitchen for December 2020. We tried to get frozen scallops from our local supermarket, but they were out … then I remembered seeing a fish shack (actually MUCH nicer than it sounds) on a main highway not too far from us. I called them, and they had fresh, wild-harvested mussels from the North Atlantic. They were a bit pricey, but, hey, this was for our Christmas dinner. They were oh so worth it!
Our grill was stowed away for the winter, so we used our tried-and-true basic black cast-iron fry pan. The secret to cooking mussels is to have the pan screaming hot, almost scary hot. Put them in the pan, and watch them slightly change color/texture until there is 3/16th inch of sear on the bottom (or so) ; ) . Turn them just once to sear on the other side, then be prepared to serve immediately, so do this last. The only other tip is to use a very high quality olive oil, it really makes a difference. Once again, this is a dinner you can be proud to serve anyone!
Well, I feel better already after this therapy session, don’t you? Let’s hope and pray 2021 is a bit more gentle with us than 2020. And if not, just head to the kitchen and cook those blues away!