When I was seven, I went on vacation with my family to Sarasota, Florida. We stayed in the house of a family friend, Shirley Apple, whose mother, Ma Core, lived with her. They were so nice to us. They had a miniature train and track in their front yard that was big enough for me and my brothers to ride. And they had a banana tree in their back yard. We we warned to look out for alligators because an overflow water ditch ran behind the banana tree. A train with the potential to be eaten alive was easily one of the best vacations. Ever.
Since then, I've spent most of my life avoiding seafood, and scallops in particular. Then, I'd try bites of Karen's crab, lobster, whatever. And most of the time I liked it. So...
I decided in the last year to learn how to cook seafood. Anything I could find. I can nail a lobster and make a killer aqua pazzo. Then I got Barbara Lynch's cookbook, Stir, and she loves scallops. And I love Barbara Lynch. So, using the transitive theory, I should like scallops. Based on this single recipe, Barbara converted me. It's easy and spectacular. Crunchy, sweet, and smooth. Butter and sea, but in a good way this time. Make this.
Note - if you haven't tried celery root before, think of celery-flavored potatoes, but in a good way. They'll make you happy. Even if you don't want to make the scallops (which I can understand only if you're allergic to seafood like one of my brothers), make the celery root gratinee.
Seared Scallops and Pureed Celery Root Gratinee, Adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir cookbook (which is one of the best cookbooks of the last year)
This will feed up to four people. The second time you make it, you'll want to double the celery root because it's amazing.
- Get four scallops per person. Or three. I won't tell you how to live your life.
- Get a celery root. Whole Foods has them. Our Stop & Shop has them, too. Celery roots are not inherently elitist. They're roots.
- 1 c. of whole milk
- 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons of butter, maybe a little more
- Some chives or 1 green onion (the sort-of-green part worked well, and it's cheaper than chives), sliced paper thin
- 1/2 granny smith apple (in honor of the Apple-Core family), diced right before you need it at the end
- A flavorless oil of you choice. Maybe a tablespoon.
Peel the celery root. A normal vegetable peeler works fine. Cut it up into chunks. You're going to puree it later, so don't worry about uniform pieces. I know chefs will disagree and say that the pieces need to cook at the same rate, but really, move on. You have other things to do. Cover it with the milk. Add a little more to cover the celery root if you need, because the root turns brown where it's exposed. I know because I didn't fully cover it. It's unsightly. Cook it until you can easily stick a fork or a sharp knife into it. Maybe 15 minutes or so. Puree it. Or mash it like you would potatoes. If you have a stick blender, use it. Add one tablespoon of the butter. Stir it until it melts. Add a bit of salt, maybe half a teaspoon. Add in white pepper if you have it or black if you don't. Taste. Adjust salt until you're happy with it. It'll stay warm through the next bit. You can heat it up a little if you need.
Make the toasted breadcrumbs
Get a non-stick skillet hot, maybe over medium high. You want it ready for the scallops. Once hot, add a little bit of vegetable/canola/grapeseed oil. Our stove is uneven, so all the oil gathers to the lower left of the pan. I skate the scallop through the oil, spreading them out in the pan. Set the timer for two minutes. Don't estimate. You will get distracted by your children or your wine. Look for a beautiful sear, a dark golden brown. If you don't think they're dark enough, let 'em cook longer. Stay present and watch them. Stop drinking, pay attention. Turn them over. Tongs work nicely and so will your fingers. Be brave. 90 seconds to 2 minutes more on the other side. While the scallops cook this last bit, spread out the celery root gratinee in an artsy way on the plate. Place the cooked scallops on top, again using your creative powers for good. Top with panko, then apple, and finally the onions.
And I was wrong. This vinaigrette takes three ingredients, and ends up tasting better than anything I've made. We ended up using about a tablespoon to dress our greens, which meant we had a lot leftover. We happily made room for it in the fridge, where it keeps up to two weeks.
Karen was flipping through Bouchon and saw Keller's house vinaigrette. It's stuck in the back of the book, where recipes go when they want to be left alone. So when she said she wanted me to make it, I didn't have high hopes.
Bouchon House Vinaigrette (based upon Thomas Keller's Bouchon recipe)
- 1/4 c. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 c. canola oil
Zip the mustard and vinegar a bit until mixed. Then, with the food processor running, drizzle in the oil very slowly. A nice steady stream. I know it sounds like a lot of oil (even though it's a standard ratio Keller's using), but you'll barely use any of it in your salad, so relax.
Watch what's happening...the vinaigrette is turning from a liquid to some crazy whipped goodness that sort of undulates and taunts you, knowing you can't restrain yourself from taking just a little taste. Pay attention to that first taste, because that's the moment you'll say goodbye to bottled dressing.
Our first introduction to Malaysian food came from our dear friend, Joel, at a place in Chicago's Chinatown. Chris and I even traveled to Malaysia for a very brief stay in 2005, but we were in the 'burbs of Kuala Lumpur, and missed out on anything interesting (other than being attacked by monkeys). We finally had a fantastic Malaysian meal in Sydney, Australia's Darling Harbour, with our friend, Rakna. Since then, I have to admit that I haven't found any place I would visit twice here in the States. Until I found the New Malaysia Restaurant in NYC on Saturday.
Very close to the Manhattan Bridge and nestled in a tiny, dark passthrough in Chinatown is a magnificent restaurant that you could almost miss if you weren't paying attention. We grabbed a menu from here years ago but never had the time to come back. Since the Chinese New Year has rung in, and I had a day to myself on Saturday, I figured this would be the time to try it.
For me, curry and coconut milk have to be the most exquisite of comfort foods out there. Saturday was a cold, grey NYC day that beckoned for a meal revolving around those. I ordered the roti canai, an Indian pancake with a curry chicken sauce for dipping. The roti has to be one of the most glorious things on a Malaysian restaurant's menu. The roti at the New Malaysia Restaurant was the best I've ever had.
A huge bowl of chicken curry soup with skinny rice noodles followed, and by this time, I basked in full-on comfort. I needed to get to an appointment at 3pm was late because I couldn't stop eating this broth. And the best part: this entire meal set me back $10.30.
I will definitely return. Until then, I will dream curry coconut milk dreams.
I have very few friends in my life that I have stayed in close contact with over the years. Maybe I'm a bad friend (I hope not). Maybe it's because Karen and I have moved so much over the last thirteen years that we've been married. New challenges, new jobs, new communities to connect with and find a place to belong. But there are friends that remain, that you cling to, and to whom you return to know who you are and who you were.
Which brings me to Brussels sprouts.