Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leapin' Lizards

I have been vindicated.

Iguanas swim. Someone other than myself saw it happen today.

For some time now, I have been trying to convince my husband that iguanas swim. Like, in our backyard pool.

South Florida is overrun with wild iguanas. With no natural predators in this region (other than a speeding Jetta), iguanas have adapted to South Florida's environment as easily as the rest of us.

They are not indigenous creatures. Iguanas were introduced to the great outdoors of Florida by pet-owners who could not be bothered to care for them or for the delicate ecosystem in our region. Burmese pythons arrived here in the same manner, and they are eating everything in the Everglades. Including alligators, it seems. I cannot in good conscience post a link to the photo of the python that actually exploded last year trying to down a six-foot gator, but you can google it, if that's what you're into.

Let's come back to the iguanas.

Please understand, I have no antipathy toward iguanas. To the contrary, I think that they are hilarious. They are naturally confident, if not charismatic. When they run, their legs windmill cartoonishly and they travel with surprising speed. If you approach one slowly, he will appraise you with a cold reptilian eye (captured above), then scramble away, tail flipping wildly. They like hot surfaces, so we see them in the street, in our driveway, and on our brick patio.

But in the pool, swimming? I know what I saw last summer: an iguana laying belly-to-bricks at the edge of our pool wanted a dip. He deliberately slid into the pool and wriggled gracefully underwater like an otter, coming to the surface for a moment to breath, then dipping below once again. A few moments later, he swiveled to another edge of the pool, climbed out, and coolly meandered up the trunk of our Schefflera tree.

Unfortunately, no one else saw this. Steve seemed skeptical of my story. "He must have fallen in," he said. I know what I saw, though.

This morning, the rain began pelting down with enough force to dislodge leaves from the Schefflera. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a green creature torpedo from our patio into the pool. Steve and I ran to the window, trying to spot the little guy under the choppy surface of the water.

The iguana surfaced at the far edge of our pool, plainly irritable. He didn't seem to like the rain at all, and kept most of his body underwater for several minutes, until the rain subsided. I suppose that he felt more comfortable half underwater than out in the open downpour. (Lest you feel concerned, my husband has rescued many an animal from our pool. No way would he have stood by if the iguana appeared to be in distress. I love this man).

Once he felt that the rain was slowing, the iguana reached a webby leg over the side of the pool and pulled himself up effortlessly (captured below). He stalked to the Schefflera and scurried up its trunk into the dense leaves. "Huh," said Steve, "they swim."

Since this is a food blog, you probably feel uneasy about how this story is going to tie in with what I've been cooking today. I assure you, I am not about to offer a recipe for jerk iguana.

Instead, I have a a recipe for brownies that I have adapted from the recipe of a fellow Fort Lauderdale blogger, Julie of A Mingling of Tastes. Julie uses Guinness in her brownies, so she calls them Guinness Brownies. Because I used Rogue's Mocha Stout instead of Guinness, I'm calling this version "Stout Brownies."

They're so good, they'll make you feel like you've been vindicated in some good way.

Stout Brownies
Adapted from A Mingling of Tastes

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup stout beer, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spritz a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt, then set aside.

Melt the butter, 8 ounces of dark chocolate, and 4 ounces of white chocolate in a double-boiler, stir frequently to prevent scorching. Alternatively, you can use the microwave: Microwave on medium power for 45 seconds and stir. Continue microwaving and stirring at 30 second intervals, reducing to 15 second intervals as the chocolate is nearly melted.

Stop just when the chocolate is smooth. Set aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and mix on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the melted chocolate gradually, beating on medium speed until combined. Next, add the flour mixture in 1/2-cup amounts, beating on medium speed until combined. Finally, add the stout in thirds and whisk until combined, just ten seconds or so. The batter should have some frothiness.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the brownies completely in pan, then cut into 24 squares and serve.

These brownies are divine with a glass of milk. Julie says that they also freeze very well.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Chicken Stock for the Soul

I attended a professional networking event recently. Someone I had just met asked me what kinds of hobbies I have. "What do you do in your free time?" he inquired.

The response that came to mind, unbidden, was: "Well, I make chicken stock." Thanks to my lucky stars and the social gods, I did not actually say this out loud. I do not need to be remembered as "the one who makes chicken stock."

But the truth is, I do make a lot of stock. There's just no way to replace the taste of homemade chicken stock and vegetable stock in a recipe. Plus, when I make my own, I know exactly what goes into it, which is important to me.

I also can control the sodium content when I make my own stock. Open your pantry and take a gander at the amount of sodium in your commercial stock. Mmm hmm--your clothes have been snug lately? Really. Make your own stock and save the salt for something worth it, people.

I go through a lot of stock in any given week. It goes in my sauces, I use it in soups. It's so easy to fill a stock pot with water, some peppercorns, and a handful of assorted vegetables, and let it simmer for an hour or two in the evening. Once the color is rich and the taste is savory, I strain the stock through a colander and let it cool slightly. I then ladle the stock in 1/4-cup, 1-cup, 2-cup, and 1-quart amounts into appropriately-sized containers. The containers freeze well and will last for several months (although in my house, they never do).

I just don't need to be telling other professionals in my non-culinary field about this. Which is why I tell people, "Oh, I cook a lot" when asked about my hobbies. Those who are interested will get more information, just not more than they'd bargained for.

Here are two of my favorite stock recipes. The vegetable stock recipe, with its caramelized richness, has been billed as "The World's Greatest Vegetable Broth" by The chicken stock recipe--my own--deserves similar praise (just a humble opinion).

If you are wondering about the difference between stock and broth, the terms are used almost interchangeably. Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and the New York Times blog "Bitten," writes, "I usually call the basic ingredient 'stock' and the enhanced, nearly ready-to-serve soup 'broth.'"

The World's Greatest Vegetable Broth
Adapted from Tom West's recipe on

1 pound celery
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound tomatoes, cored
1 pound green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound turnips, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 gallon water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Remove leaves and tender inner parts of celery and set aside.

Toss onions, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers and turnips with olive oil. Place vegetables in a roasting pan and place them in the 450 degrees oven. Stir the vegetable every 15 minutes. Cook until all of the vegetables have browned and the onions start to caramelize, this will take over one hour.

Put the browned vegetables, celery, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, pepper corns, Italian parsley and water into a large stock pot. Bring to a full boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.

Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot. The liquid caught in the bowl or pot is your vegetable broth it can be used immediately or stored for later use.

Makes about 2 quarts of broth.

The World's Greatest Chicken Stock

The bones of 1 roasted chicken
1 gallon cold water
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup loosely-packed Italian parsley
6 springs of fresh thyme
3 large carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, sliced in half and unpeeled
3 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the pot to simmer for 1 hour, covered. Add 2 cups of water after the contents have reduced for 1 hour. Simmer for 1 more hour, covered.

Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot.

Makes about 2 quarts of stock.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Payday Gnocchi

Now here is something I did not know.

Gnocchi, one of my favorite meals, has its own day of the month in Argentina. Ñoquis del 29 is what it's called.

The day is so-named because traditionally, the 29th day of each month was the day before payday for most people, which meant that it was a day on which people had little money in their pockets. Gnocchi was celebrated as an inexpensive way to have a hearty meal on a day that had nothing else going for it.

A hot bowl of gnocchi is my favorite meal-on-the-go; the gourmand's version of fast food. It's my go-to on the nights when I have an evening event or meeting.
This is because I rarely make gnocchi from scratch.

Buying it pre-packaged and vacuum-sealed, I'll rip open that plastic pouch, dump the lot into a pot of boiling water, and let it go for 3 minutes. I'll chop an onion, smash a clove of garlic, and dump a 15-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes and a handful of dried herbs into a second pot, heating the whole thing to a simmer. Once the gnocchi float to the top of the boiling water in pan
#1, I'll drain them, then add them to the sauce in pan #2 for another 2-4 minutes. Into a plate it goes, and ta-da: fast food. Off to my meeting.

My experiences making gnocchi from scratch have been crummy. I end up with potato crusting my counter-tops, flour smeared on the floor and--the worst--lumpy gnocchi.

I'm sure this is a sign that I need to keep working at it. I will muster the energy to try again soon, but until then, I'm sticking with the pre-packaged stuff.

Today's gnocchi recipe is a good summer feast and is nearly as fast as my tomato-based fast food sauce. In spite of the fact that the sauce is built upon a smooth foundation of heavy cream (a very little heavy cream, folks), it is a light, citrus-y dish with bright green spinach and sweet peas at the forefront of the palate.

Speaking of palates, Steve and I drank a $7.00 Domaine Du Pouy with this dish and it paired beautifully with the citrus and cream. Economical and tasty, it's an appropriate way to toast an upcoming payday.

I have adjusted the proportions a bit to suit my own taste, and reduced the amount so that it serves two people. If you would like the original recipe, which is portioned for four people, it is available at Epicurious.

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas

Adapted from Gourmet, December 2007

1/2 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, smashed

3 cups packed baby spinach (3 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (I love Meyer lemons, but regular lemons will do the job, too)

1/2 pound dried gnocchi (I use whole wheat)

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

Simmer peas with cream, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add spinach and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring, until wilted. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice.

Meanwhile, cook gnocchi in a pasta pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain gnocchi.

Add gnocchi to sauce with cheese and some of reserved cooking water and stir to coat. Thin with additional cooking water if necessary.

Serves: 2 people on ñoquis del 29

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Elf, a Cupcake, a Fish

I got on an elevator with an elf this weekend. A tall individual, he wore a kilt, green legging, pointy ears and a dreamy expression lacking any trace of irony. The crowd waiting to get on the elevator at the ground floor included pirates, fairies and all four Ghostbusters, proton packs aglow.

Steve and I were in Columbus, Ohio for the wedding of our friends David and Laura. The wedding guests stayed at the downtown Hyatt Regency where, we discovered, the 43rd annual Marcon was taking place. Marcon, we learned, stands for "Multiple Alternative Realities Convention," a gathering of 2,000 people in costume. A harried hotel clerk informed us at check-in that there would be zombies encouraging people to donate blood to the American Red Cross later on.

In the afternoon, as we boarded the elevator to leave the hotel for the wedding ceremony, it seemed like everyone was in costume: Steve and I in our wedding finery, and three bar wenches in push-up corsets and glitter eye shadow.

This is what I love most about weddings: the unpredictable hours before the highly choreographed ceremony and reception. The unexpected moments. The sci-fi convention that takes over the hotel.

Earlier that afternoon, we had joined the groom and a few other old friends in a walk to Goodale Park, a sprawling green space in the heart of the city. We sat in the sun next to a pond, chatting and watching lazy ducks out on the rocks on the far edge of the water. Yes, these are the moments that I love about weddings.

After that, David took off to prepare for the ceremony, and Steve and I perused Columbus' North Market for lunch.

North Market is a collection of counters and stalls in a large, open warehouse. You can find meats (including a nice selection of game meat), cheeses, baked goods, and flowers all within this space. I roamed the aisles, sunburned and happy, until I found Omega Artisan Baking in one corner.

Omega, the counterperson explained to me, specializes in European-style breads and pastries. It was the French wedding cupcakes that got me. I am a total sucker for a cupcake, and Omega's semi-sweet chocolate numbers, with their rich buttery frosting, destroyed any pretenses that I had regarding a healthy lunch. And their name was particularly apropos for the weekend.

After I consumed my dessert, Steve and I purchased two pepperoni rolls for lunch. We ate them slowly, walking back to our hotel along brick streets.

Later that afternoon, David and Laura exchanged vows under the sunny skies of Columbus. In the evening, we all danced in the fading sunlight and I saw a fish leap in the river, sending rings outward toward both banks. And I had time to think, once again, how much I love the unexpected moments at weddings.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whereupon She Discovers a Better Snack

You know that point in the middle of the afternoon when lunch is three hours behind you and dinner is at least three hours ahead?

That's the abyss of snacking for me. Yeah. That's the hour when I hunch in my office chair, my body curved like a question mark over my keyboard, and slowly lose my concentration.

It's a gradual slide into mental torpor. Then comes the crankiness.

Usually, around this time, a package of crackers finds its way into my hands. And sometimes, nay, often, particularly when I am stressed out at work, I reach for a candy bar. Or for a handful of cookies. The ones with the fudge stripes and the friendly, plump elves on the bag.

Office grazing: it's pre-packaged, calorie-laden, preservative-packed fake snacking. No one respects herself after a hasty encounter with a Nabisco product, but so many of us sit right outside the office kitchenette of temptation, with its vending machine glow and its cheap promises of quick and easy blood sugar.

A few months ago, I took a stand. I refuse, refuse, to continue snacking this way. I decided to make my own snacks, the kind that taste rich and contain ingredients I can identify. Mercifully, it was around this time that I discovered Ellie Krieger's energy bar recipe.

In her recent cookbook, The Food You Crave, Ellie writes, "I find most energy bars either unbearably sweet or like leaden masses of mortar. Besides, so many are filled with bizarre ingredients." Oh, thank you. This is the very reason that I prefer to make my own. That, and the fact that your average Powerbar sets you back two bucks. That's two bucks that could be better applied to an afternoon coffee.

Ellie Krieger's Energy Bars
Adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave, available at

Cooking spray
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled unsalted raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup whole-grain pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries (not included in Ellie's recipe, but adds a tart kick that I love)
1/2 cup pitted dried dates
1/2 nonfat dry milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Place all the ingredients, except the maple syrup and eggs, in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add the syrup and eggs and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It will resemble a coarse paste.

Transfer to the baking pan and spread evenly to cover the bottom. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into 24 bars.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3 days or wrap individually and freeze for up to 3 months. I wrap them individually in parchment or plastic wrap and put them into a freezer bag. In the mornings before work, I'll grab one, toss it in my bag, and take it to work. It thaws out in time to save me from myself in the afternoon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sage-Scented Cookies

Perfumed lotions aren't really my thing. Usually, they are too sweetly artificial, too "apple," too "freesia."

My aversion stems from my first year of college, when my roommate wore a suffocating amount of Victoria Secret pear lotion. We did not get along, the two of us, and I will always associate the stress of living with her with the smell of pear lotion and cigarettes. And stale Papa Gino's pizza, left on the floor. By her. The previous week.

I lived with friends for the rest of college.

Herbal scents, on the other hand, are my thing. Rosemary is beautiful to me; Williams Sonoma used to make a lovely hand soap using this herb. Without the cloying sweetness of floral or fruit perfumes, herbal scents make me, well, think of the kitchen.

Sage is one of my favorite scents. It reminds me of summer camp in the Rockies, where sage grows along hiking trails. Walking along, I would get occasional whiffs of the faintly peppery leaves.

It's not news that scent and memory are closely linked in the mind.

This sage-y, buttery cookie recipe caught my attention the other day. I like the fact that this cookie contains only a few ingredients, giving the cookie a straightforwardness that other cookies do not have. Each of the flavors has its own prominence, and its own lovely aroma. Your house will smell great.

Sage-Scented Shortbread
Adapted from Bon App
étit, November 2007

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, room temperature

Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, process until dough comes together. Divide in half. Shape each dough piece into log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm enough to slice, about 30 minutes.

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut each dough log into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets. Bake 10 minutes. Reverse sheets so bottom sheet is on top rack of oven and top sheet is on bottom rack. Bake until cookies are golden, about 15 minutes longer. Cool on racks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Merri, my mother-in-law, is an excellent cook. She is one of those people who cooks instinctively, never needing a recipe. This means that--unlike me--she does not gather cookbooks the way a treasure-hunter scours the ocean floor. (I, on the other hand, have cookbooks in every room of the house. They're even stacked on the floor next to my bed.)

While Merri does not depend on recipes, she does have a copy of one of the most beautiful cookbooks ever published, Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Italy. Published in 1984, this cookbook contains exquisite photographs and some truly alluring dishes. When Steve and I went over to my in-laws last week, I decided to try my hand at one of them. I picked the taralli, out of my love for these crunchy little snacks.

Giuliano describes taralli as versatile items that, "according to their flavoring, may be used as bread, appetizer, or dessert." They are made like bagels, dipped in boiling water for 30 seconds before baking.

I stuck to Giuliano's recipe this time, but next time I may add a pinch of cayenne for a little fizzle and replace the fennel seeds with rosemary. Or maybe I'll brush them with apricot preserves when they come out of the oven.

A hint for the wise. When you are ready to roll these puppies into 25-inch ropes, do not dust your working surface with flour. I did that (see the photo below), and ended up swearing at the dough that would not roll under my hands. You need a slight tackiness to get the dough to roll out smoothly.

Giuliano Bugialli's Taralli
Adapted from Foods of Italy, available at

For the Sponge
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Dough
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
10 twists black pepper
1 egg

To make the sponge, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. In a separate bowl, make a well in 1 cup of flour and mix in the dissolved yeast with half of the flour. Let the sponge rest, covered, for 1 hour.

To make the dough, put 1 3/4 cup of flour in a bowl. Make a well and put the sponge in the well, along with the remaining flour around the sponge. Add the olive oil, eggs, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in the well and start mixing in the flour from the outside of the well. Keep mixing until the dough is homogenous and smooth.

Cut the dough into four pieces. Lightly roll each piece out on a flat surface until you have a rope about 25-inches long. Divide each rope into 5 pieces, then connect the ends of each piece to make a circle.

Let the taralli rest, covered with a towel, for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet.

Meanwhile, boil water in a casserole dish and add salt to taste. Place 4-5 taralli at a time in the water and boil for 30 seconds. Remove the taralli and place them on wax paper to drain. Once drained of excess water, place the taralli on the greased baking sheet.

Stir the remaining egg in a bowl and brush the egg over the tops of the taralli.

Bake the taralli for 30 minutes.

Wit Bier

I love beer.

That didn't come out right.

What I mean is that I love good beer. The first time I tried St. Bernardus Tripel, it was a revelation. Until then, beer was wallpaper. It was just something to drink if nothing else was around.

The Tripel smelled like honey and tasted like oranges and coriander. I drank it in silence, savoring it like something rare and fragile.

Now, I'm a fan of Chimay. Allegash, Avery, and Ommegang produce great beers as well. My husband--who not only loves good beer, but also knows a lot about beer, the brewers, and so on--will rarely pass up the chance to try a beer that he's never seen before. Sometimes, we discover something completely unexpected--like I did with that first Tripel--sometimes, we just enjoy the beer for what it is.

The other day, Steve brought home this case of squat steel cans. "It's not a case of Ensure," he said by way of a preamble.

It sure does look like Ensure in the case. Especially because the cans are shorter than regular beer cans. It's beer though, and while it's not the best Belgian wheat beer I have ever tasted, it's pretty refreshing for something that comes from a can.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Scallops

My nephew James just turned three. When I called my sister to wish him a happy birthday, he hollered, "THANK YOU TANTE SARAH, THANK YOU UNCLE STEVE," acknowledging the awesomeness of our present. We gave him a pickup truck that transforms into a Tyrannosaurus Rex as well as a turquoise coupe that transforms into a shark (or a lizard?). Toys that transform into other toys are huge among three year olds, I'm told.

When James was born, my sister and brother-in-law lived in Durham, North Carolina. Steve and I went to visit the new family about ten days after James' birth. His tiny fingers, wrapping around mine for the first time, made me weepy. That is my favorite memory of that trip.

My second favorite memory of that trip was our breakfast at Foster's Market. Foster's Market is a purveyor of all things wonderful and out-of-this-world. Opened by Sara Foster in 1990, it's one of my happy places. The Market lives in a rambling building surrounded by sunny picnic tables on one side and a shady, vine-covered loggia on the other. Inside are bins overflowing with goodies and comfy chairs and sofas. Stacked on a wooden counter in the middle of the store are golden lemon bars, brownies, fudge-y cakes, and other proof of heaven. I could move in tomorrow.

And I have James to thank for introducing me to this wonderful place. Thank you for being born in Durham, James! Enjoy the Tyrannosaurus Rex pickup truck.

Foster's Market Crunchy Corn Relish with Scallops
Adapted from Sara Foster's The Foster's Market Cookbook, Favorite Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night, available at

Kernels from 4 ears fresh corn (2 cups fresh or frozen corn)

½ red onion, diced
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon peeled, julienned fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
2 bay leaves
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
7 scallions, trimmed and cut into thinly sliced rounds
6 fresh basil leaves, cut into very thin strips (chiffonade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large, fresh scallop

For the Crunchy Corn Relish
Place the corn, onion, wine, vinegar, ginger, thyme, garlic, peppercorns, coriander, sugar and bay leaves in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir and cook about 10 minutes, until the seasonings are incorporated. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the green bell pepper, red bell pepper, scallions, and basil in a large bowl and stir to mix. Add the corn mixture to the pepper mixture and stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use. Discard the bay leaves before serving.

For the Scallops

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and allow them to cook on one side for 2-3 minutes until lightly caramelized.

Turn the scallops over and cook on the opposite side for 2-3 until the scallop is opaque in the middle. Serve immediately over the crunchy corn relish.

Serves: 2

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bottoms Up

I spent a few delicious minutes outside earlier this afternoon under a palm tree. It was overcast and breezy, the heat of the week breaking a bit in time for the weekend.

It's May in Fort Lauderdale.

People love Florida--South Florida in particular--because it is virtually seasonless. The winter is warm and the summer is sauna-hot. Autumn, described by Hemingway during his years in Key West as "only a more dangerous summer," varies from hot and sunny to hot and stormy.

Having lived in Fort Lauderdale for four years (to the day, almost!) I appreciate some nuances of Florida summers. The snowbirds have gone home, so traffic is lighter. From my downtown office, I can see thunderheads swelling out west over the Everglades during the afternoon. Our pool is swim-able (lounge-able, really).

Which means that it's time to make lemonade.

This recipe has been adapted from one created by my mother's friend Kathy. A transplant from Rhode Island to Dallas, Kathy battled Texas heat with this gorgeous beverage. She would mix huge batches in a heavy glass container, the slices of lemon and orange jewel-like in the sun against the dewy surface of the glass.

Kathy's Minted Lemonade

For the lemonade
8 cups of chilled water, plus one extra cup
2 Meyer lemons (if you don't have access to Meyer lemons, regular lemons are perfectly fine)
8-10 regular lemons, enough to render 3/4 cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 oranges, enough to render 1 cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, plus one extra orange
A few extra sprigs of mint (3-4)

For the simple syrup
1/2 cup of fresh mint
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Make a simple syrup, using this recipe from an August 1998 issue of Gourmet: Chop the mint. Bring the sugar, 1 cup of water, and the mint to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer the syrup, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve, pressing the solids, and cool.

Cut the Meyer lemons and 1 orange into 1/4-inch slices and add them to the 8 cups of chilled water.

Juice the regular lemons, then the 2 remaining oranges. Combine the juices, then strain them through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to get all of the juice. Add the strained juice to the chilled water and stir.

Add 1 cup of the simple syrup and the extra sprigs of mint, give it all a stir, and serve over ice.

Servings: 6-8 highballs on the patio