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 😬.

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

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Risotto is one of those dishes that I love to make because I never make it the same way. It’s what I love to do as a cook – improvise!

Typically I use butter, aromatics, wine, broth, and finish with cream and/or cheese.

But the add-in options are practically endless. I’ve used chopped tomatoes, grated zucchini, pesto, canned pumpkin, and carrot juice. It all works. I’ve even made risotto with Thai flavors. Who says risotto must only have Italian flavors? Well, some people might, but I’m 63% Italian, so I stand my ground.

There are two reasons that this risotto is unique. One reason is that I’m using tomato powder.

I posted a while back on a book called The Spice Companion, and in it I learned how to make a powder simply from oven-dried tomatoes.


The other special ingredient is mushroom powder, which is a seasoned mixture of ground dried mushrooms. I found the recipe on Tandy Sinclair’s blog called Lavender and Lime.

I didn’t follow her recipe exactly, shown below, only because Tandy included rosemary and thyme and I wanted the mushroom powder more generic in flavor.

My version had garlic pepper, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper plus salt in a variety of wild dried mushrooms that I ground using a dry blender jar.

So here’s how I made this risotto.

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely diced
1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
Big splash of Riesling or Pinot Gris or Graves
Chicken broth, mildly flavored, approx. 2 1/2 cups
1 heaping tablespoon tomato powder
1 tablespoon mushroom powder
Salt, to taste
Grated Parmesan, optional

Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and sauté slowly; don’t allow much browning.

Add the rice and stir well for a minute. All of the grains should be coated with butter.

Add some wine and stir in well.

Then begin adding the broth, a little at a time and stir well after each addition. Stirring is an important part to the resulting creaminess of the risotto.

As you’re continuing to add broth and stir the rice, find that special position on the stove where the liquid isn’t cooking off too fast, but the fire isn’t so low that cooking stops.

When the rice has absorbed just about all of the liquid it can, add the tomato and mushroom powders and stir well.



Continue adding broth, water, or even some cream, until the rice is fully cooked. Taste for salt.

I personally love white pepper in risottos, but I didn’t want it to overpower the tomato and mushroom flavors.

To serve, I added a bit of grated Parmesan. Feta cheese would be good as well.

Plus I sprinkled on a few parsley leaves just for color.

The tomato and mushroom flavors in this risotto really sing. Grilled steak or chicken could be added, or maybe some braised short ribs. But I will always have tomato powder and mushroom powder in my seasoning arsenal.

Cheese Panela

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There is a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, called Javier’s, that specializes in gourmet Mexicano cuisine. No nachos at this restaurant.

I discovered Javier’s in 1979, after moving to Dallas for my first job. Since marrying 36 years ago, we go Javier’s whenever we’re in Dallas, which can be quite often. It’s that good. I just checked the website for Javier’s, and learned the restaurant opened in 1977. And, it’s still open.

Not only is the food exceptional, but also the ambiance and service. The key to its continued success, in my mind, is the fact that the owner, Javier, is always at the restaurant. Saturday, Tuesday, whenever, he’s there.

One entree we’ve always enjoyed is steak Cantinflas, which is a filet stuffed with cheese, topped with an Adobo-style sauce, and served with fresh avocado. There’s also roasted chicken mole, shrimp Guaymas, great margaritas, and coffee drinks made and flambed at the table. Spectacular.

When you’re seated at Javier’s, you are given warm chips served with two warm salsas – a thin tomato salsa that almost tastes like tomato soup, and a thicker green salsa. We’ve never been able to decide which is better. Oh, and there’s fresh butter in case you want to first dip your chip into the butter, then the warm salsa…

As an appetizer, my husband and I have often shared the Cheese Panela, which is prepared at the table. It’s melted cheese with chorizo and green chiles served in warm tortillas. It doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it is.

I never thought about why the appetizer’s name is cheese panela, until I came across the same word in a blog I discovered, Nancy’s blog called Mexican Made Meatless. Her blog is “dedicated to transforming classic Mexican dishes into modern vegan, vegetarian, and pescetarian delight.”

To quote from Nancy’s blog: I was born and raised in a traditional small town Mexican environment, in which my education in Mexican food preparation began early by watching the passion that my mother, grandmother, and aunts all put into their cooking sessions. Though the culinary bug took time to fully infect my soul, when it finally did it instilled in me a fiery passion that has lead me to devour everything about the culinary arts and helped me get to where I am today.

So while perusing her blog, I saw the word panela, and learned that it’s the actual name of a cheese. Because of my memories of cheese panela at Javier’s, I knew I’d be making this recipe, interestingly also reminiscent of the Argentinian baked provolone I made called Provoleta, topped with chimichurri.

Who can go wrong with spicy melted cheese?!!

Cheese Panela
or, Baked Panela Cheese that will Knock Your Socks Off!
printable recipe below

7oz panela cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoon parsley (I used fresh)
1 teaspoon thyme (I used dried)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (I used dried)
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoon olive or avocado oil

Drain the cheese and set aside.

In a bowl combine the oil and all of the herbs and spices. Poke little holes all around the cheese to help the seasoning absorb better. Place the cheese in with the oil and spices mixture and coat the cheese, cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight if desired.

Because I purchased a 3-pound wheel of Panela, I trimmed it to fit the gratin pan.

Preheat the oven to 190℃ or 375°F for 10 minutes. Place the cheese in the oven-safe dish and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes.

The cheese will become soft and gooey but not melt completely. Allow to cool slightly.

Serve with either corn chips or country bread or any rustic bread. I baked some tortilla triangles.

As the cheese cools it will firm up again, so try to keep warm when enjoying.

The cheese is definitely reminiscent of what we used to order at Javier’s, although not as melty.

However, this cheese panela recipe is absolutely incredible. I love the aromatics, the spiciness, and the parsley.

The next time I made this recipe I used half panela and half Monterey Jack to make it more melty, which worked, but it’s best served over some kind of warmer.

 

 

 

Sous Vide Redfish

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There’s a really good reason that I don’t often cook fresh fish. There’s no fish where I live. Not edible fish, at least.

The closest fish source is the Gulf Coast, 700 land miles due south. Sure, some fish and seafood is flown in frozen at my grocery store, but not surprisingly, it’s not that great.

But I do have a friend whose husband fishes around the world. After the fish are caught, they’re immediately cleaned, vacuum sealed, and frozen. And this special friend shares fish with me!

I’ve posted on red fish/redfish before, thanks to this same friend. It’s a unique fish with large scales, and it’s recommended that the fish is cooked skin down, and served the same way. Sort of like on the “half shell.”

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But Stefan from Stefan Gourmet has been trying to convince me to sous vide white fish, and this is a perfect opportunity to try out this technique.

I tried to convince him previously that when I cook fish, I make sure to make it moist and tender. Which is basically trying to convince him that I don’t overcook fish. But then he says the sous vide actually creates a protein that is even more moist and tender. Because he is my sous vide go-to expert, I know he’s right. If you need basic information and lots of sous vide recipes, please refer to his blog.

If you don’t own a sous vide, follow the directions for cooking the fish from my other redfish post

And if you don’t own a sous vide, do consider one. I own a demi version, which is half the size of the non-commercial standard size, and plenty big for most everything. It was also half the price.
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Honestly, the machine is a miracle worker. My favorite thing to do with it is to sous vide both brisket and flank steak. These are both meats I never loved, and yet, once the sous vide process is over, the meat is like filet mignon. Chicken breasts are great in the sous vide as well.

According to my girlfriend, Creole flavors lend themselves to redfish. I’m also serving the fish with a fun mayo. Here’s what I did.
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Sous Vide Redfish with a Spicy Mayo

Redfish filets
Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning*
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for the spicy mayo:
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Creole mustard
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1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Pinch of salt
Chopped parsley, chives, or tarragon

To sous vide the fish, set your machine at 50 degrees C or 122 degrees F.

Rinse and dry the fish on paper towels. Season generously with Creole seasoning.


Vacuum seal the fish.
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Sous vide the fish for 20 minutes.
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For safety purposes, place the package of fish in an ice bath for about 10 minutes, then refrigerate.
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To make the mayo, place an egg yolk in a small bowl. Whisk the egg yolk until it’s smooth. A little whisk works wonders for a small amount of mayo.

Begin drizzling a little olive owl slowly into the bowl, while continuing to whisk.

Continue in this manner until the mayo is the consistency of heavy cream.
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Once it has thickened, pour the rest of the oil into the mayo while still whisking. Af this point, it will be the consistency of mayonnaise.
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Add the garlic, mustard, salt and cayenne pepper. As it is, the mayo can be refrigerated for a few days.


To serve the fish with the , warm the fish and the mayo close to room temperature.

Remove the fish from the plastic and place the filets on paper towels. Dry off the fish. Place the fish in a baking pan large enough so there is no overlap. Drizzle a little olive oil over the filets or, if you prefer, add a dab of butter to each filet.

Broil the fish just until it gets some color. Meanwhile stir the chopped parsley into the mayonnaise.
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Serve the fish with a dollop of the spicy mayo.
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After a little broiling, I sprinkled a little hot paprika over the fish for a bit more color.


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So was it even more tender and moist from the sous vide? Honestly, I can’t imagine this fish even more perfect than it was! Thanks, Stefan!
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* You don’t have to use a seasoning mixture, but a friend recommended this brand, and I’ve enjoyed it. If you prefer to make your own, here is a recipe from Epicurious.