Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A pretty good salad!

So I don't usually do this...but I went to the supermarket before I'd had lunch the other day--what was I thinking?!?--and saw all kinds of things I hadn't noticed before and everything looked good. Of course. I tried this salad and for what it was, I thought it was very good!

Here is their description:

Our B.L.T. Caesar is the best of all worlds--a great Caesar Salad with Real Bacon Crumbles (and plenty of them) plus moist and tasty Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Tomato French Bread Croutons. Our Restaurant-Style Caesar Dressing is Caesar as it should be--rich, cheesy and mellow, not harsh or too vinegary. And all this on a bed of fresh, crisp 100% Romaine Lettuce.

In the main they were right. The sundried tomatoes and bacon really tasted like what they were. The croutons were tasty and crisp. There was even a little package of grated asiago to sprinkle on top. But I bought this on September 17 and the sell-by date was September 24. And already the cut sides of the lettuce were starting to get some of that rusty look that lettuce gets when it's been cut to far ahead. I trimmed it a bit and the rest was just fine.

The package says it makes three servings. I got five sort of side-salad size servings. It would have been pretty skimpy as a main course salad serving, but if you added some grilled chicken breast it would probably be enough for most. The cost was $3.69, or $0.74 per side salad serving, or $1.23 for a bigger one.

It was good for what it was, as a time-saver, but your own dressing, and toppings would probably be better!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cuban Mojo Pork Chops

Recently I've gotten on bit of a binge of “Nuevo Latino” cooking. It's a blend of the elegant cuisine of Old World Spain, and the bright sunny flavors of the New World Hispanic countries. And it's a hot trend in the culinary world. You can hardly open any of the restaurant trade magazines without finding something about it.

A while back I had a dish resembling this pork dish in a little Latino restaurant in Louisville, KY. Pork is quite affordable, and takes to many different flavors. Most of my friends like it. So why not try it myself, I thought.

I made the marinade from scratch, but you can use bottled Goya Mojo Criollo (found in specialty markets and Latin groceries) with the addition of the juice and zest of one lime.

I did try packaged hollandaise sauce, which I found quite acceptable after tarting it up a bit. If you prefer, and have a recipe you like, feel free to make your own. The one thing I like about the packaged mix is that it won't break or separate if you have to hold it for a while.

I was going to use diced home-grown tomatoes, but I didn’t get to the farmers’ market, so I used a pint of those sweet little grape tomatoes from the supermarket, cut in half. I recommend them.

I accompanied it with a rice pilaf: I sautéed a little onion and simmered the rice in saffron-scented chicken stock. I added a handful of frozen peas, thawed, for color.

And I made the baked black beans that I mentioned a while back. They are, with no competition, the best black beans I've ever tasted. You can find that recipe here.
Give it a try; I'm sure your friends will enjoy it as much as mine did!


Mojo Marinade:
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
The finely grated zest of one lime and one lemon (See note.)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups hollandaise sauce
2 tablespoons canned chopped green chilies
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, cut into half
The zest and juice of one lime

8 pork chops, 1" thick
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Place the chops in a large plastic Ziploc bag. Add the marinade and squeeze out as much of the air as you can. Put in a baking pan in the fridge for several hours or overnight (or a couple of hours at room temperature). Occasionally turn the bag over and give it a little massage to make sure all sides of the meat are bathed in the marinade.

Make the sauce: Combine all the ingredients and keep warm.

To finish, remove the meat from the marinade. Put the marinade in a small pan and bring to a boil.

Grill or broil the chops until just barely done, brushing frequently with the marinade. Remove to individual plates and drizzle on some of the hollandaise. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Pass the remaining sauce at the table. Serves 8.

NOTE: Grate the zest of the lemon and lime BEFORE squeezing the juice.
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Monday, September 03, 2007

Super scallops!

I am originally from Louisville, KY, and recently have been making frequent trips back on family business. My sister lives in Knoxville, so we try to plan our trips home so that at least one evening we can go out to dinner and catch up with each other.

Louisville is a fabulous restaurant town, and we’ve had our favorite restaurants that we sort of rotate among.

It took Memphis friends Kelly Robinson and Michael Hughes to turn me on to L & N Wine Bar and Bistro. A few weeks ago, my sister and I tracked it down and went for dinner.

We had a wonderful meal, composed of several “small plates.” We accompanied it with wines well chosen by our server from their list of over 100 wines by the glass.

My favorite dish was the scallops. The menu description was “seared diver scallops, basil gnocchi, tomato butter sauce, balsamic reduction.” I liked it so much that I went back alone a few days later to have it again.

You probably know the next part of the story: I had to try to do it myself. My first effort was quite felicitous. I made a sort of beurre rouge sauce with red wine, shallots and diced fresh tomatoes, made the gnocchi myself, and put it all together. It was delicious. But it was a whole lot of cooking time.

I knew that if I wanted to share it with you, I was going to have to make some revisions. So I gave it another shot, and this time it was still quite tasty, with a lot less work. And most of it can be done ahead.

I used purchased plain gnocchi and added a drizzle of basil oil to compensate. I used canned tomatoes, but there is no reason you couldn’t use really good, red ripe tomatoes from the farmers’ market this time of year. Peeled, seeded and diced, they would only take a few minutes of extra cooking for the sauce.

If you remember from earlier scallop recipes I’ve shared, “dry” (unprocessed) scallops are essential to any recipe that calls for browning them. I used U-10 sized (under 10 to a pound).
With a green salad, this has everything you need for a wonderful, but quick and easy, dinner for friends.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 can (16 ounces) diced tomatoes

Basil Oil:
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

Balsamic reduction:
1 cup balsamic vinegar, simmered to reduce by half

To finish:
1 1/2 lbs U-10 dry scallops
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 package (16 ounces) potato gnocchi
Fresh basil or parsley, for garnish

Make the sauce: In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the tomato paste in the red wine and add to the onion. Add the tomatoes and their juices, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Salt to taste. Set aside.

For the oil: In a blender or food processor, puree the basil in the oil. Set aside.

When ready to serve, bring a big pot of well-salted water to a brisk boil. Drop in the gnocchi. Cook for about 1 minute after they rise to the top of the water, usually about 3 to 4 minutes in all.

Pat the scallops dry. In a heavy skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and brown well, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning once.

Divide the gnocchi among 6 plates. Ladle on most of the sauce (reheated if made ahead). Place the scallops on top and add the rest of the sauce. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top. Drizzle the basil oil around the edges and serve immediately. Serves 6.

NOTE: The picture is from the L&N Wine Bar and Bistro website. They topped theirs with crispy threads of deep-fried leek. Pretty , isn't it?