Stuffed Potatoes with Lentil Chili

Sometimes finding a vegetarian or vegan recipe calls for making it just because it sounds good. Such was the case with “lentil chili” in the recipe name. Had to give it a try and found it very good! Of course, it needed a little more chili powder than called for to satisfy the Gringo Gourmet taste buds. It seemed a bit sweet when tasted during cooking. A couple of teaspoons of rice vinegar balanced the sweetness nicely.

Stuffed potatoes with Lentil Chili – Vegetarian version.

Stuffed Potatoes with Lentil Chili
4 russet potatoes (about 8 oz. each)
1 small red onion
1 poblano chile pepper
1 carrot
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can lentils, drained and rinsed (or cook 1 cup dry lentils in 4 cups water 20-25 minutes until tender, but don’t overcook to mushy)
2 tsp chili power (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1. cup shredded cheddar cheese – about 4 ounces (Substitute vegan cheddar to keep this dish vegan)

Preheat oven to 425º.Prick potatoes with a fork and microwave until tender -15 – 20 minutes. Transfer to oven rack and bake until soft – about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, finely chop the red onion. Put 2 Tbsp chopped onion in a small bowl, cover with water and let soak for 10 minutes; drain, pat dry and set aside for topping.
Chop the poblano. Peel and grate the carrot.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the remaining red onion, the chopped poblano and carrot, season with salt and pepper. Cook stirring occasionally,until tender – about 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder and cumin and cook about 1 minute until toasted. Stir in lentils and add the tomato paste and cook stirring, until vegetables are coated. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, 1-1/2 cups water and a large pinch of salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened – about 10 minutes.
Split the potatoes open. Drizzle with the remaining Tbsp olive oil, season with salt and pepper and fluff with a fork. Top with half the cheese, then top with the lentil chili. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and reserved red onion.

NOTE: This is a very good stuffed potato! Omnivore/carnivores can use smaller potatoes and use this as a side dish with a nice grilled steak if desired.

Have it both ways – as a meal with a big potato, or as a side with a smaller potato.

Sweet Potato Tostadas

As a devoted omnivore with carnivore proclivities the occasional experiment with vegetarian and vegan recipes can be an adventure. It is interesting to see how many “V” recipes are base on a combination of sweet potatoes and black beans. And is is great that this combination works so well in so many different ways. This Sweet Potato Tostadas recipe is about as far removed from a Mexican tostada as one can get, but it is delicious and will probably show up on the Gringo Gourmet menu again!

Sweet Potato Tostadas with a side of sliced prickly pear tunas. See note below about the sweet potato topping and prepping the tunas.

3 sweet potatoes (about 1-1/4 lbs) peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 small head red cabbage, shredded )about 1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
1 canned chipotle chile pepper in adobo plus 1 – 2 tsp adobo sauce from the can
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 15 oz can refried black beans (vegetarian if desired)
8 tostada shells
1/4 cup Mexican cream or sour cream

Put sweet potatoes in a large skillet using enough water to cover, season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender – 20 – 25 minutes. Drain, return to skillet and set aside.
Meanwhile, mix the cabbage, 1 Tbsp lime juice and a pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Pineapple Salsa: Toss 1 cup pineapple with the cilantro and 1 Tbsp lime juice in a small bowl and set aside.
Pineapple Sauce: Puree the remaining cup of pineapple with 1 Tbsp lime juice, the garlic, chipotle and adobo sauce, cumin and water in a a blender until smooth. Stir this pineapple sauce into the sweet potatoes and cook over medium heat until warmed through – 3 – 4 minutes.
Put the black beans into a small sauce pan, add 3 Tbsp water and warm over medium high heat.
Spread black beans on tostadas; top with sweet potatoes, pineapple salsa and cabbage. Drizzle with the crema.

NOTE: These tostadas boast wonderful flavors and textures, but are very rich. Spread the beans and sweet potato mix thinly. If you spread the sweet potato mix to thick, it can be a bit much! The photo includes a few slices of prickly pear fruit (tunas). Sometimes the fresh tunas from the grocery store are not glochid-free. Carefully check and removes the glochids from the “spots” on the tunas, or peel them. You might like to wear rubber gloves so you don’t get glochids in your fingers.

Mole Poblano Goes Vegan

Moles maybe be an acquired taste, but once it is acquired, it is something you’ll crave. I’m enjoying trying Mexican dishes made vegan by chef Jason Wyrick in his new cookbook Vegan Mexico. My own feeling is that vegan never will taste like foods that are not totally plant based.  They are good on their own and should be appreciated for that, not compared to non-vegan or non-vegetarian recipes with similar names.  Accept and enjoy the differences.  In this case, sweet potato and black beans will never taste like mole on chicken or pork enchiladas, but you’ll be surprised at how good they are together in many vegan dishes. I’ll be playing with more recipes from this cookbook and sharing recipes with my vegetarian- can’t give up her dairy and eggs for a vegan lifestyle- daughter and our v-word friends!

Vegan Mole Poblano and a couple of vegan tamales from the freezer section at the grocery. I love the mole; I like the tamales, and next time I’ll put more red sauce on the tamales!

After all the typing this post took, you owe it to me to give this mole a try, even if you use just the short cuts, as I do!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Mole Enchiladas
From Vegan Mexico by Jason Wyrick
Jim’s notes are in italics.
1 medium white sweet potato (if white is not available, an orange sweet potato can be substituted)
¾ cup[ Oaxacan-style black beans (recipe and my simplified version follow)
1 cup mole poblano (homemade recipe follows, but you may substitute Doña Maria Concentrated Mole Poblano and follow the recipe on the jar. If you are cooking for one or two, look for the Doña Maria Mole ready to serve 9.5 oz box. It is a new discovery for me and will encourage me to make more mole at home.)
¾ cup water
1/4 tsp salt

Rich depth mole flavor and quick and easy ready-to serve for small batch cooling! Best discovery of my week!

12 6-inch corn tortillas
Corn oil for frying
3 tbsp chopped fresh sage
¼ cut chopped salted roasted peanuts
Preheat oven to 450°F. Wrap the sweet potato in foil and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool, remove foil, peel sweet potato and chop into 1-inch chunks. Toss sweet potato chunks with Oaxacan-style black beans and set aside. Or, wash and dry the sweet potato, pierce skin all over with a fork, place on a paper towel in your microwave and zap it for 12-15 minutes. Test with a fork. When tender and cool enough to handle, split potato in half. Score flesh vertically and horizontally at one-inch intervals , but don’t cut through the skin into the palm of your hand! Use a table spoon to scoop potato cubes out of skin. How easy, cooler in your kitchen and faster is that?
Combine mole poblano, water and salt in a medium skillet. Warm to medium heat.
Add ¼ inch of oil to a deep skillet and heat to just above medium. Fry tortillas in oil for about 3 seconds each, then dip on mole poblano sauce for bout 10 seconds.  Transfer each tortilla to a “work” plate and add about 2 Tbsp filling. Roll tortilla and transfer to a serving plate or platter. Repeat with all the tortillas and pour remaining sauce over them.
Drop the sage into the hot oil and fry for about 45 seconds, remove from oil and sprinkle the sage and on the enchiladas. I like to fry individual sage leaves as a garning for several different dishes. They are delicate to handle, but I find it more attractive and easier to managed that sprinkling fried sage bits.
I find Wyric’s Oaxacan-style black beans to be a fascinating recipe. Because I usually cook for one or two, I reduce recipes regularly so I don’t have too many leftovers stacking up in the fridge. I would like to make his recipe one day and compare it with my shortened version. Both are here for your reference.

Oaxacan-Style Black Beans
1 lb dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
2 whole ancho, mulato or pasilla chiles
1 dried chipotle meco chile or 1 chipotle in adobo
1 Tbsp cumin seeds or 2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 avocado leaves or ¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp salt.
Preheat oven to 275°F. Combine beans, water, onion, chiles, cumin, pepper, cinnamon stick or ground cinnamon, avocado leaves or fennel seeds in a 10-X10-inch baking dish. Mix well, cover tightly with foil and bake for 8 – 10 hours until beans are tender.  Serve as is or mash the beans before serving.

Oaxacan-ish-style Black Beans
I guestimated that Wyrick’s recipe would yield about six cups of beans. I used one can of rinsed black beans, figuring that to be about 1/3 of the volume of the original recipe.
I tried to use 1/3 of the rest of the ingredients in the recipe. I substituted a heaping teaspoon of ancho powder and about 1/3 chile in adobo for the chiles. I approximated the measure of the other ingredients using a tsp as a tool for eyeballing the amounts.  I did use the whole 1/t tsp fennel seed because I love fennel. I crushed the seen in a mortar before adding them to the recipe.
I heated the bean mixture through while I did the rest of the prep then followed the enchilada cooking and assembly instructions. I was pleased with the flavor of the abbreviated Oaxacah-ish beans enough to think about making the scratch recipe someday.
I said I’d include the homemade Mole Poblano recipe. I think typing it is about as much work as making it from scratch!
Mole Poblano
2 tsp chile seeds (ancho, guajillo or mulato)
¼ tsp coriander seeds
4 cloves or 1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 black pepper corns or 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp anise seed or a pinch of ground anise
1 (½-inch) Mexican cinnamon stick or 1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
½ cup corn oil, divided
½ cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup raw pepitas
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 5-inch corn tortilla
2 (1/2) inch thick French baguette slices
1 small ripe plantain, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 ancho chiles, stemmed
4 pasilla or additional ancho chiles, stemmed
4 mulato chiles, stemmed
Boling water, as needed
2 Roma tomatoes, pan-roasted
3 cloves garlic, pan-roasted
1 (1-ounce) wedge Mexican chocolate
1 (1-ounce) piece piloncillo or 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar
Salt to taste
In an iron or other heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat, toast the following individually, stirring slowly, then remove from the heat, grind into a powder and add to a blender:
the chili seed until blackened, about 2 minutes;
the coriander seeds for 1 minute;
the cloves for 1 minute;
the peppercorns for 30 seconds;
the anise seeds for 30 seconds;
the Mexican cinnamon stick for 1 minute’
the sesame seeds for 1 minute
Add ¼ cup of the corn oil to the skillet. Working one at a time, fry the following individually. Transfer each to the blender as it is finished.
the almonds until they are browned, about 2 minutes
the pepitas until they are browned, about 2-1/2 minutes
the raisins until they are plump, about 2 minutes
the tortilla until it is golden, about 1 minute
the French baguette slices until they are golden, about 2 minutes
the plantain until it is browned, about 3 minutes
and the onion until it is browned, about 5 minute
Add the remaining oil to the skillet and bring back to medium heat. Working in batches, fry the anchoes, pasillas or additional anchos and mulatos for 30 seconds, taking care not to burn them. Transfer the chiles to a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave the oil in the skillet, but turn the heat off.  Wait 20 – 30 minutes for the chile’s to rehydrate, then transfer the to the blender along with the tomatoes and garlic. Reserve the chile water.
Puree the spice mixture, slivered almond mixture and chile mixture adding enough of the reserved chile water as you blend to create a smooth sauce. Press through a fine-mesh strainer for the smoothest sauce. Bring the oil in the skillet to medium low heat. Add the sauce, Mexican chocolate, piloncillo or turbinado sugar and salt to the skillet.  Slowly simmer for at least 40 minutes until oil pools on top of the mole. As the mole thickens, add just enough water to keep it from sticking to the skillet.  If you have time, let the mole simmer for 1 to 2 hours. The longer the better.

According to Myrick, you can save time by using ground spices and not toasting them. You scan skip frying the almonds and pepitas by buying the pre-roasted and salted. You can add the chiles, onion, raisins and plantain to the blender without frying them, but the result won’t be as rich-tasting.
The greatest time saver is buying a jarred mole poblano sauce such as Doña Maria because it is vegan and commonly available in Mexica or larger supermarkets. Wyrick recommends adding ½ cup caramelized onion to the jarred sauce and puree it.

New Fall Recipes Get Me Excited! … Charred Red Cabbage with a Butternut-Miso Mash, for instance.

Mid-September and our daytime temps are still in the high 90’s! Food magazines from more temperate climes are featuring tempting recipes and photos for soups, stews, braises and tempting riffs on harvest vegetables that have me doing fall cooking despite the heat!
I found a brilliant photo of Charred Red Cabbage with a Butternut-Miso Mash that I just had to make. I wanted to try it so much that I waited two days for white miso to arrive at the grocery store. It was worth it!
The butternut-miso mash is a puree of butternut squash, butter, white miso and crushed red pepper. Red cabbage is pan charred on the stove top and it is all brought together with a drizzling sauce of toasted sesame oil, lime juice, lower-sodium soy sauce, honey and fresh ginger. Garnished with fresh cilantro and cashews, it all came together with a slightly Asian feel.
I made is as the recipe instructed, but when I make it again, I’ll add more crushed red pepper. As a border guy, I crave more heat than northerners would. Also, when it came time to do the dishes, I found the flavors in the mash had come together and were more satisfying than when they came right out of the food processor.
I think this recipe was created as a side dish. My meal needed protein, so I grilled an inch-thick pork chop with Williams-Sonoma’s Habanero Citrus Rub. It was a good compliment for the Asian-feeling mash and cabbage and, surprisingly, was not overly spicy from the habanero chile. I wonder why I haven’t been using it more often! I think white beans – navy, great northern or cannellini – with a hint of garlic or onion might be a good way for vegetarian or vegan folk to add protein.

Charred Red Cabbage with a Butternut-Miso Mash
1 16 oz peeled, seeded and cubed fresh butternut squash
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
I Tbsp white miso
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 crushed red pepper (needs more!)
1 small head red cabbage
I Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp kosher dalt
2 Tbsp toasted sesame il
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp lower-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1’2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup unsalted roasted cashews, roughly chopped

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Adds Squash and reduce heat to medium; simmer until tender – about 10 minutes. Drain. Combine squash, butter, miso, garlic and red pepper in a food processor. Process until smooth.

Cut cabbage in half lengthwise. Cut each half into four equal wedges. Heat canola oil in a large heavy skillet over high. Add cabbage, cut sides down; cook until charred, about five minutes. Flip cabbage and cook until charred on second side. Remove from pan and sprinkle with salt.

Stir together sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce gibes and ginger in a small bowl.

Place 2/3 cup squash mistuned in each of 4 bowls. Top evenly with cabbage wedges and drizzle with sesame oil mixture. Garnish with cilantro and cashews.

NOTE: Because I was serving this as a side dish, I plated it with the pork shop instead of using a bowl. When I make this again, I’ll make the butternut-miso ahead of time and let the flavors blend more. I liked the drizzling sauce so much, I’m going to make more and try it on grilled chicken.

Poblano Enchilada Quiche

Poblano chiles and lots of eggs, cheese and cream in a tortilla crust accented with red Chile sauce is worth trying.

Overlook the old baking sheet and concentrate on the quiche. It is very rich, yet light in texture with tantalizing flavors. Next time out, egg beaters with just an egg or two and half and half instead of heavy cream should work and make it somewhat healthier.  The tortilla crust is something worth trying with other fillings. We’ll work on that in the Gringo Gourmet Academy Test Kitchens and report on the trials soon.

4 large eggs
¾ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium poblano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup shredded Mexican blend cheese (or cheddar, or pepper jack or plain jack cheese)
1 10 oz can red enchilada sauce
4 six-inch corn tortillas, three cut in half

Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk the eggs, heavy cream ½ tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the sliced poblano pepper, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and charred in spots: 5-8 minutes. Add to egg mixture along with scallions and all but two Tbsp cheese, stir to combine and set aside.

Pour the enchilada sauce into the skillet and heat until bubbling; remove from heat. Using tongs, dip the whole tortilla in the sauce until coated. Place in a 9-inch pie plate. Dip the tortilla halves in the sauce and arrange around the sides of the pie plate with the curved sides up, they will overlap a little. Reserve the remaining sauce.

Pour the egg mixture into the tortilla “crust”, smooth out the poblanos in and sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Drizzle with about three Tbsp of the remaining enchilada sauce. Bake until golden, slightly puffed and set – about 25 minutes.

Reheat leftover enchilada sauce, cut the quiche into six wedges and plate. Drizzle with heated enchilada sauce.  Serve with a simple tossed salad or the jicama recipe below.

Optional Jicama Side Dish
1 pound to pound and a half jicama
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup chopped cilantro
Peel the jicama and slice into matchsticks. Toss with lime juice, cilantro, 2 Tbsp olive oil and ¼ cup water. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the quiche.

Po’ que poke?

Poke (pronounced poh-keh) is trendy right now. We’re finding poke on menus, in specialty restaurants and even on food trucks. It is raw fish with an assortment of sauces and it is very good!
Running across a recipe for a “tuna and avocado tostada” was just another way of enjoying poke with a little  Mexican twist, so, por que no? (why not).

Toss 12 oz diced sushi-grade tuna with one tablespoon each soy sauce, orange juice, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil. Stem, seed and mince one serrano pepper (two might have been better), and season with salt and pepper.

Mash one avocado with the juice of half a lime and a little salt. Spread the avocado side to side on 6 tostadas. Tope with the tuna drizzle with chipotle mayonnaise and sprinkle with shredded red cabbage and cilantro and crispy fried onions.

Po’ que poke. Delicious, light and refreshing.

Notes:  Make your own tostadas by baking corn tortillas in a 375° oven. Spritz the tortillas with a little cooking spray, turn at five minutes a couple of times until they are lightly browned and crisp.  You can use 6″ tortillas.  I used three 3″ tortillas and heaped on the poke and avocado to make a meal for one.

Make your own chipotle mayonnaise with two to three tablespoons of mayonnaise and a teaspoon or so of adobo from a can or jar of chipotles en adobo. Thin with a little water to make a drizzling consistency.

I was too lazy to fry onions and didn’t want to buy a whole can of fried onions this time.  Maybe nest time!

Have the guy at the meat counter get your tuna from the freezer, not the tuna that’s been in the display case for who know’s how long!  It will be frozen and easier to dice and better tasting.  Remember, you’ll be eating it raw “cooked” by the citrus juices in the marinade.

Shrimp and Potatoes Doesn’t Automatically Mean Battered and Fried

Battered and fried “spicy”shrimp with sides of fries and coleslaw are a wonderful indulgence once in awhile, but you can go low-cal garlic shrimp and potatoes as well. Broiled garlic shrimp and sugar snap peas and a side of potatoes mashed with buttermilk and chives can become another treat without the guilt at 44O calories per serving (including the richness of butter). Using buttermilk in the mashed potatoes was a new experience after years and years of using half-and-half. Buttermilk adds a special touch to the flavor. Thank goodness there were enough potatoes for a small second helping.

Think outside the paper box of fried goodness and try this different approach to favorite goodies.

Garlic shrimp and potatoes – favorites broiled, not fried.

1¾ lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1½ lbs small red potatoes, halved
¾ cup buttermilk
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat broiler. Toss shrimp, snap peas, garlic, thyme and olive oil in a large bowl and set aside.
Cook potatoes in a pot of water until fork-tender – about 10 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, drain the potatoes and return to the pot. Add buttermilk, 2 Tbsp butter, ½ tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. Mash, gradually adding cooking water if needed. Be sparing with liquids and don’t over-mash. Stir in half the chives.
While potatoes are cooking, spread the shrimp and snap peas in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil until just cooked through and charred in spots – 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven, dot shrimp and peas with 2 Tbsp butter, sprinkle on the lemon zest and toss until the butter is melted and the mixture is well coated.
Divide potatoes and shrimp mixture among 4 plates. Drizzle with any juices (that would be herbed butter!) from the baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp chives.

Lemon-Basil Chicken with Zucchini Noodles (and a new kitchen toy)

Many fun meals have been made using a small, hand-held, inexpensive OXO spriralizer to make colorful and delicious vegetable “noodles”. It has become more fun with the introduction of a three-blade option allowing a choice of three sizes of noodles. This new toy and discovering a new recipe calling for zucchini noodles made experimenting mandatory.

Six-foot long zucchini and yellow squash noodles for Leah’s bridesmaids’ luncheon with the first OXO spiralizer.
New OXO serializer with three blades for three widths of vegetable noodles.










Lemon-Basil Chicken with Zucchini Noodles. Baby patty pan and zucchini squash were irresistible      garnish on the zucchini noodles.

¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (6 to 8 oz each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ shallot, finely chopped
½ cup torn fresh basil, plus 2 tsp finely chopped stems
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
1-1/2 lbs zucchini noodles
Red pepper flakes for topping (optional)

Spread ¼ cup flour on a large plate. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dredged in the flour; shake off excess flour.
Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add chicken and cook until golden and almost cooked through (5 – 6 minutes per side).
Push chicken to the edges of the skillet and add shallot and basil stems to middle of skillet.  Cook about 1 minute until soft, but not browned. Stir in remaining tablespoon flour and cook 1 minute to make a roux. Add chicken broth and lemon juice, bring to a boil while scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat and simmer, turning the chicken occasionally until cooked through (165°in thickest part of breast) and sauce is thickened (3 – 4 minutes). Turn off heat and swirl in 2 tablespoons butter until melted and add the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.
Melt the remaining tablespoon butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini noodles, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until just softened (2 – 3 minutes).  It is easy to overcook the noodles and make them too soft! Toss in half the torn basil. Divide among 4 plants, top with chicken, sauce, remaining basil and red pepper flakes.

Fennel is my F-Bomb

Long ago, The Gourmet Dad, by Dean McDermott, caught my attention on a Denver bookstore shelf. It promised “Easy and Delicious Meals the Whole Family will Love.” It had great recipes that included  modified versions to appeal to children. A surreptitious photograph of book cover was taken to remember to look at the book in more detail after the trip.

Stumbling on that photo a couple of years later prompted a visit to Amazon and subsequent purchase of the electronic version of the cookbook. It does have some very good grown up recipes; even the kid versions sound good. The books photos attest to the plating skills of an accomplished professional chef and inspire emulation.

McDermott has a wife and five children which seems to a cadre of sous chefs in the house to help with the prep of the books “easy” meals.  There are no quibbles with the “delicious” description.

The below recipe with the Fennel F-word begged to be made. Seared scallops with it made it imperative! As a single empty-nester with no sous chests around, prep for most recipes takes some time. This recipe was worth the time on multiple levels. As a desert dweller, using watercress was a new adventure well worth the price for a handful. Who knew it has a peppery bite! It is always a thrill to try something new. McDermot’s instruction on searing scallops is simple and produces beautiful results. Gaining a new skill is always appreciated.

McDermott’s original recipe is for four salad servings topped with two scallops each. Hah! Reducing the volume of apple and fennel and upping the count of scallops to six per serving and the addition of a little garlic and  herb bread made in a meal instead of a side dish.  No point on shorting oneself on scallops, or fennel! A bonus was some leftover roasted shallot vinaigrette for another evening.

Seared scallops and apple and fennel salad justify the use of the F-word FENNEL!!!

Seared Scallops, Shaved Apples and Fennel
with Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette

4 shallots, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus ½ cup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
Juice of 1 orange
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 sea scallops
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and thinly sliced (may substitute Pink Lady, Gala or Jonagold)
2 fennel bulbs, stem trimmed and shaved
Juice of 2 lemons, halves reserved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 bunch watercress, all but ½ inch of the stems removed
1/8 cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed, plus 1/8 cup for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°
Spread shallots on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the thyme and two springs’ worth of the rosemary. Roast the shallots until tender, 10 – 12 minutes.

Allow the roasted shallots to cool, then mince them. Combine them with the remaining rosemary, orange juice, lemon juice and zest and garlic in a small bowl and mix well. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup olive oil and season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Pat the scallops dry and allow them to come to room temperature. In the meantime, combine the apple, fennel, lemon juice and lemon halves in a medium bowl and set aside.

Preheat a large sauté pan over high heat. Using a sharp knife, carefully score the top of each scallop in a crisscross pattern and season both sides with salt and pepper and a drizzle of grapeseed oil.

When the pan is hot, carefully place the scallops in it with the crosshatched side down. Do not move the scallops until they release from the pan, about 3 – 4 minutes to get the best sear and coloring.
Once the crisscross side releases and is a golden brown, flip the scallops and add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, baste the scallops a few times and then remove the pan from the heat. Residual heat from the pan will finish cooking the scallops to perfection.

Drain the reserved apple-fennel mixture and discard the lemon halves.  In a large salad bowl, toss have the watercress with the fennel-apple mixture. Add the reserved vinaigrette and 1/8 cup of the crushed hazelnuts and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the salad on four salad plates, and top each with two scallops. Scatter the remaining watercress on top and garnish with the remaining hazelnuts and serve.

Notes: I forgot to buy hazelnuts, so I didn’t use them this time.  I wonder how pecans might work instead. The garlic cloves I uses were quite strong, but mellowed nicely in the dressing as it sat on the counter for a few minutes.



Chard No. 3

The “3 Ways to Use Chard” feature in Cooking Light magazine has been the source of some great meals over the past several days. Chard with Shaved Fennel started the binge. Fennel is always a siren’s call around here. Then came Charred Chard and Shallots, just because it was fun to say out loud and charring greens in the oven or on the grill is a taste treat that keeps greens interesting. Completing the trifecta was a Sweet Potato and Chard Salad. The clincher on that one is farro.

It wouldn’t be honest to say the chard binge is over. There’s another bunch in the crisper awaiting another chard challenge.

Sweet Potato and Chard Salad with a sprinkle of scallions.
The salad was just right with that second pork chop from the package!

10 oz  cubed sweet potato – about ½ inch
6 oz chopped rainbow chard
1 cup hot cooked farro
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp tarragon vinegar
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp sliced scallions

Cook sweet potato in 4 cups water over medium-high heat. Bring water to a boil and reduce to medium low for three minutes. Stir in chopped chard and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain well.
Combine potatoes and chard, the cooked farro, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle with sliced scallions.


This salad will be a hit at the next potluck dinner gathering.

Follow package directions for cooking farro. You can put the farro and water in the refrigerator overnight to soak and reduce it’s cooking time. This works with steel cut oatmeal, too. The texture and nutty flavor of farro made this salad extra special.

Good ol’ El Paso groceries… it took shopping in three stores to find tarragon vinegar. The Heinz tarragon vinegar was a disappointment.  It was very weak and not really vinegary nor was there much tarragon flavor. Even with more than the recipe called for, it was sad. Next time I’m out of town, I’ll search for a more potent brand.