Couscous Risotto with Scallops

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The name of this post sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? I mean, couscous is crushed wheat, a staple in North African countries. Risotto is an Italian dish made with specific rice varieties, like Arborio.

I discovered a beautiful, tri-color couscous, and decided to turn it into a creamy risotto-of-sorts topped with seared and spicy scallops, just for fun. I assume from the size of the couscous “pearls,” that this is an Israeli couscous.

For the spiciness on the scallops, I’m using a favorite product by Penzey’s called Red and Black. It’s a mixture of black pepper and cayenne pepper.

Couscous Risotto

1 pound scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black and Red Pepper
Bacon grease, or grape seed oil, about 3 tablespoons total
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 1/4 cups broth, approximately
Heavy cream, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh chopped parsley, optional

First rinse and dry the scallops. Season with salt and the red and black pepper; if you don’t want them spicy, use sweet paprika.

Heat bacon grease in a large, cast-iron skillet over the highest heat. You’ll have to sear the scallops in two batches.

When your grease is hot, add half of the scallops. Cook them about 2 minutes on the first side, till they’re well browned.

Turn the scallops over and reduce the heat at the same time. This will help cook the scallops through.

After another 3 minutes or so, test them with your tongs. As soon as there’s some firmness, remove them to a paper towel. Continue with the remaining scallops, first heating grease (adding more if necessary) over the highest heat.

When cooked properly, scallops should be soft and glistening.

To make the risotto, heat the grape seed oil in a medium-sized Dutch oven. Add the shallots and cook them over medium heat until they’re soft.

Pour in the couscous and stir it around until all of the pearls are glistening.


Then, just as with risotto, add some broth and stir it in well, continuing with the broth until it’s all done. This should only take about 15 minutes.

Pour in the cream and salt. Give it a stir, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then cover the pot and remove it from the heat.

Remove the lid after 10 minutes and let the couscous cool slightly.

Place the risotto in a shallow serving bowl, then add the scallops, tucking them into the risotto.

Sprinkle with parsley, if using.

I also added some cayenne pepper flakes, cause I like spicy.

The couscous risotto really came out superb. Creamy and soft, but the pearls hold their shape.


I really love my concocted dish!

And then imagine this dish with borage flowers sprinkled on top, because they were meant to be there 😬.

Thai Beef Salad

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Recently, I came across a Christopher Kimball recipe that caught my attention. It’s a Thai-inspired salad with skirt steak. Nothing terribly unique, except that when I make salads, they tend to be of the Southwestern ilk, with greens, beans, vegetables, and goat cheese.

Kimball’s Recipe has grilled steak, vegetables, shallots, cilantro,and a flavorful fish sauce-based dressing. Fabulous flavors.

The only thing I did differently was to sous vide the skirt steak. I know how to cook just about any steak in my sleep, but if you’ve ever enjoyed skirt steak, flank steak, flatiron or hanger steak cooked sous vide, you know why there was no hesitation on my part.

If you’re not familiar with Christopher Kimball, I’m actually surprised (especially if you live in the U.S.) He has authored many cookbooks, but was also the editor of the wonderful Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He has a show on PBS, and also talks cooking on an NPR show.

What I like about this man is his somewhat old-fashioned demeanor, his bow tie, his aw-shucks attitude but in Vermont style. He’s the opposite of loud, abrasive, show-offy, and arrogant.

My favorite book of his isn’t a cookbook, it’s called Dear Charlie, a collection of letters he wrote to his son, that appeared in the introduction of every publication of Cook’s Illustrated.


I loved these down-home letters about sunrises, apple pies, tractors, and so forth that my endorsement was printed on the book cover.

His latest cookbook is Milk Street, shown below, and a classic photo of Mr. Bowtie as well.

And now to his Thai Beef Salad.

Thai Beef Salad

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 large shallot, sliced
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
Rice or cellophane noodles, optional

Dry off the skirt steak if necessary with paper towels. Mix the salt, black pepper and brown sugar together, and rub onto the steak on both sides.


Vacuum seal the steak, and cook at 131 degrees F for 12 hours. This can be done the previous day. Refrigerate the steak immediately.

Just when you’re ready to start preparing the salad, remove the steak from the plastic and dry off; set aside.

Combine the shallots and lime juice in a large bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the fish sauce and cayenne flakes to the shallot mixture.

Heat a skillet over high heat with the canola oil, and sear the steak quickly on both sides. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice the stead against the grain, and add the slices and accumulated juices to the large bowl.


Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and mint. Toss to combine.

I wanted to add some noodles for fun, but it wasn’t part of Mr. Kimball’s recipe.

Transfer everything to a platter, and garnish with more cilantro.

This salad is fabulous. Refreshing, spicy, and full of flavor.

I did add a second shallot, more fish sauce, and a little rice wine vinegar.

I can’t stop thinking about how good this salad would be with grilled octopus or shrimp….

Charred Carrots with Brie

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So, Facebook did it to me again! There it was, a post from Tasting Table, and a photo. An intriguing photo of what looked like charred carrot sticks. Then I read further.

It’s a photo of charred carrots, tossed with Brie, cayenne flakes, honey, and lemon juice. WOW! A sweet, spicy, smoky, cheesy, and tangy vegetable dish, by Tim Love.

Tim Love is a Texas chef best known for his “urban Western” cuisine, and more typically – meat and game. Not being familiar with him, I googled. He’s definitely not Tim Love, the plastic surgeon.

From chef Tim Love, “This is a dish that is actually the result of a little too much pink wine. I was cooking for a party and I drank a lot of rosé all day,” Love says with a laugh. “I forgot about the carrots under the broiler and had to figure out what to do with them — and it ended up being the most popular dish of the night.”

The most important part of this dish is charring the carrots, so don’t be afraid to get them dark. Since you aren’t tossing them while they roast, only one side will char, preventing them from tasting burnt. After you toss them with the Brie, honey and lemon juice, make sure to transfer the carrots to the platter without any of the accumulated liquid. That way the vegetables stay crisp.”

Charred Carrots with Brie

4 medium carrots
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces triple-cream Brie (rind removed), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the broiler to 500°. (Don’t forget to have a rack on the top shelf in the oven like I did!)

Cut the carrots into cut into 4-by-½-inch sticks.

In a medium bowl, (I used a large Pyrex bowl) toss the carrots with the oil and cayenne pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper.


Transfer to a baking sheet and spread the carrots out into a single layer.

Cook until the tops of the carrots are well charred, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Immediately, add the Brie, honey and lemon juice to the bowl with the carrots, and toss to combine. (I used the same Pyrex bowl to toss the hot carrots with the other ingredients.)

Let sit for 2 minutes to allow the Brie to melt, then toss to incorporate.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a platter, leaving any liquid behind.

Serve immediately.

To say these carrots are fantastic is an understatement. The flavor profile is incredible.

I will be making this recipe again, and experimenting with sweet potatoes and Cambazola, especially as it gets closer to the holidays! Thanks Chef Love!

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Scallops and Veggies

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This dish is easy and healthy, and a nice change from all of the heavy meals typically served during the holidays. It’s simply seared sea scallops on top of layers of vegetables. What could be better!! So, here’s the recipe.

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Scallops and Veggies
serves 2 hearty eaters, or 4

1 medium-sized spaghetti squash, baked
1 pound sea scallops, of uniform size
2 leeks, white part only
Olive oil
1 large purple onion, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
Butter, for the scallops
Cayenne pepper flakes

Bake the squash using this recent recipe here. Then, after it’s cooled down, use a fork and scrape out all of the strands of spaghetti squash onto a serving platter; keep it warm.
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Rinse the scallops, and place them on paper towels to dry off; set aside.
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The next step is to clean the leeks. Leeks grow in soil, so they always contain dirt and silt that you need to avoid.
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Slice the white ends cross-wise. Place them in a medium bowl and fill the bowl with water. Separate the rings of leeks so that any silt sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Then remove the leeks from the water and place them on paper towels to dry.


Using a large skillet or work, heat the oil over high heat, and add the red peppers and onion when it’s hot. Allow some caramelization, then reduce the heat slightly to cook the vegetables through. Add a little salt and pepper, then place them over the cooked spaghetti squash. Keep warm.

Add a couple more tablespoons of oil and using the same technique, caramelize and then cook the leeks. Add a little salt and pepper, then place the leeks over the red bell pepper and onions.

Switch to a clean, flat skillet to cook the scallops, which should be completely dry. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil, and 1 tablespoon of butter and heat over high heat. The butter will brown, which only adds flavor.

Sear half of the scallops in the oil and butter mixture, for at least one minute. Then turn them over using tongs and sear the other side. Make sure to also season them with salt and pepper, and even garlic pepper if you so desire.


Turn down the heat a little if you feel they’re not completely cook through. Place them on a plate, and continue with the remaining scallops.

When you’re ready to serve, make sure your vegetables are still warm, then top them with the scallops.
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Serve from the platter, making sure every serving includes squash, peppers, onions, leeks, and scallops.

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I love cayenne pepper flakes on this dish, and you can also offer Sriracha for extra spiciness!
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I have also smothered the cooked scallops in chile paste before, and you could always create a sauce with a Thai curry paste for an alternative flavor profile.

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But even straight forward, with salt and pepper, the scallop on the vegetables, all cooked to perfection, creates a fabulous dish!


I served this dish with an Albariño, and it was a lovely combination.

note: I could imagine this dish with also lovely sausages or grilled shrimp!

Tomato Basil Pinwheels

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My first experiences in the kitchen were of the baking kind. I’d get up early and make some kind of sweet coffee cake or cinnamon buns on Sunday morning to make my family happy. All I remember was that I was about ten when I started the ritual.

Baking became addictive for me, although I’ve since changed from sweet baked goods to preferring everything savory.

I’ve posted on three savory yeast breads on this blog – Chili Pecan Buns, Pesto Pinwheels, and Bread for Cheese. They’re just so much fun to create, and no recipe is required.

I happened to have a chunk of Comté, and decided to use it in a yeasted bread, along with sun-dried tomatoes, and make them in the style of cinnamon buns, much like the pesto pinwheels. Simple, yet delicious. By themselves, with a soup, stew, or just as a basic savory bread to serve with dinner.

So, I’m not writing down an exact recipe, because I like the idea of encouraging my readers who are novice cooks to come up with their own versions of recipes customized to their specific tastes. Don’t like sun-dried tomatoes? Use feta and olives instead! Or nuts!

But I’ll tell you what I did. And if you don’t make your own bread dough, you can make these rolls with purchased pizza dough.

Tomato Basil Pinwheels
makes 10

Comté or Gruyère or Fontina, approximately 8 ounces
1 – 8.5 ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 lb. bread dough or pizza dough, risen at least once
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
Dried Basil, about 1 tablespoon
Cayenne pepper flakes, optional.
Approximately 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan

First grate the cheese you’re using.


Then place the sun-dried tomatoes in a colander to drain the oil. The product I used was julienned tomatoes packed in oil with Italian herbs.


My dough weighed exactly 16 ounces when it was ready to roll.
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Roll out the dough to a rectangle, approximately 16″ in length by 10″ in width. First add a drizzle of olive oil, and top with the cheese.
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Add the drained sun-dried tomatoes, and then the basil and cayenne pepper flakes, to taste.
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Roll up the dough lengthwise, keeping it tight. Snip off the ends if necessary.
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Slice down through the log, making even pieces, and place then spiral side up and down on a cookie sheet. Mine were about 2″ thick. The pinwheels don’t have to touch. Also, you could use a baking dish instead to contain them, or even muffin tins.
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Let the pinwheels rise for at least 45 minutes while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle them with the finely-grated Parmesan, and put the cookie sheet in the oven.
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Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes; they should be golden brown on the tops.
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Let cool slightly and serve.

My husband ate some for lunch. With nothing else! Oh, and he doesn’t like sun-dried tomatoes.
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I’m very happy that I made these pinwheels.
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