Seared Scallops with Orzo and Lemon Vodka Sauce

>> Friday, April 26, 2013

Seared Scallops with Orzo and Lemon Vodka Sauce

A nice sale on bay scallops and a jar of vodka we infused at home with citrus peel and ginger was an excellent reason to make the creamy and slightly tart scallops with lemon vodka sauce. We like the large scallops best, but frugality wins out at dinnertime. This sauce is excellent with any kind of fish, too.

Joe seared the scallops in grapeseed oil because it has a higher smoke point (smokes less easily at high temperatures). This allowed him to brown the scallops quickly without overcooking them until they were the consistency of gobs of rubber. Canola and peanut oils are also good for high temperatures, when the old standby, olive oil, will burn.


For the Orzo

1 1/2 cups orzo
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

Dash cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp corn starch stirred into 1 tbsp cold water
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp dill weed
2 tbsp citrus vodka
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup half and half

For the scallops

1 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 cups bay scallops, or 10 to 12 large scallops
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 tbsp chives, snipped


Heat the oil in a medium pot, then brown the orzo until golden brown. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the broth is absorbed and the orzo is cooked. Keep warm until ready to serve.

In a small saucepan, stir together the sauce ingredients. Simmer 3 minutes, until thickened and well combined. Keep warm while you prepare the scallops.

Dry the scallops on paper toweling. Heat the grapeseed oil on medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the scallops and brown on all sides for 3-5 minutes; larger scallops may need a bit more time to cook. Add the garlic, and lemon juice, and simmer for 2 minutes. Do not overcook or the scallops will be tough.

To serve, spread the orzo on a platter and arrange the scallops on top. Drizzle the sauce over the scallops and sprinkle with the parsley and chives.

Serves 4.


Chicken Asparagus Swiss Casserole

>> Friday, April 19, 2013

Chicken Asparagus Swiss Casserole

This is an elegant and flavorful casserole quick enough for a weeknight dinner, but special enough for company. If you don't like the taste of wine in your food, substitute chicken broth.

Asparagus is already looking delicious around here this year, so when they finally start sprouting up north, I bet it will be a good crop. If you find tough stalks in your asparagus, the ones that never get tender no matter how long you cook them, peel off the outer skin with a paring knife. You'll save more of the vegetable that way than just throwing out the bottom of the stems.


2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups asparagus spears, cut into 2" pieces
1/2 tsp tarragon, crumbled
1 tsp dry ground mustard
2/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup white bread crumbs or Panko crumbs
2 tbsp parmesan or romano cheese


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and put your (non-cutting) hand on top. With a sharp knife, cut through each chicken breast lengthwise to produce two thinner breasts. This will make the chicken cook more quickly while staying tender during the cooking time.

Oil an 8x8 casserole dish with cooking spray. Place two breasts in the casserole, then sprinkle with half the asparagus, tarragon, mustard, and cheese. Pour half the wine over the chicken. Layer the rest of the chicken and other ingredients on top, then pour on the rest of the wine. Stir together the bread crumbs and parmesan, then sprinkle on top of the casserole.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the asparagus is tender.

Serves 4.


Napa Cabbage Crunch Salad

>> Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Napa Cabbage Crunch Salad

This salad is a refreshing way to get some leafy greens into your diet, without making the same old tossed salad or coleslaw. We love the Asian-inspired vinaigrette. Joe's a master at blending a creative oil and vinegar dressing!

This salad keeps well when it is refrigerated, and doesn't get soggy.


For the vinaigrette

Juice of 1 lime (about 3 tbsp)
¼ cup Mirin (sweet soy sauce)
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp fish sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, grated

2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup Daikon radish, peeled and shredded
10 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped peanuts or almonds
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped


Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Combine the salad ingredients and toss with the dressing.

Serves 6-8.


Asian Fusion Plum Jam

>> Monday, April 8, 2013

Asian Fusion Plum Jam

I recently had another canning date with my friend Talea, who had found a luscious pile of just-ripe plums at the grocery store. We put our heads together to come up with a unique plum jam recipe. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of simmering fruit and ginger. I couldn't stop staring at the luscious purple color in the jars! The photo above really doesn't do it justice.

That night, when the guys got home from work, we served a fresh ham roasted with ale and rubbed with herbs and salt, and served these preserves on the side with a nice glass of Cabernet. 


1 cup water
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp ground cardamom
¼ c  fresh ginger, grated
1 large jalapeno, finely chopped
2 lbs plums, seeded and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups sake


Pour water into a non-reactive saucepan. Add lemon juice, zest, cardamom, ginger, jalapeno, and plums and crush with spoon or potato masher. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 60 minutes, until mixture is thick and syrupy and the fruit is soft. Add water if the mixture gets too dry.

Press the fruit through a fine colander or run it through a food mill to remove the tough bits. Return it to the pan and add the sugar and sake. Simmer and stir for about 60 minutes, until the jam sets. It is set when a spoonful set on a cool plate is thick and jam-like.

Sterilize half-pint or pint jars and lids. Heat water in a boiling-water canner until it is at a rolling boil. Fill sterilized jars with fruit mixture, leaving 1/2" room from the rim. Wipe off the rims and screw down the lids until finger-tight.

Boil in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from boiler and cool on a towel. Tighten the lids before storing.

Because the recipe does not include any jelling compound, the preserves may be a little juicy, but still delicious.

Makes about 6 half pint jars.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Swig Restaurant, Milwaukee, WI

>> Friday, April 5, 2013

Last fall, Joe and I spent a sunny day up in Milwaukee - one of the last lazy days of Indian Summer. We happened to hit Milwaukee's historic Third Ward on the day of Louie’s Last Regatta,an annual benefit for the Children's Hospital that's held at the Milwaukee Ale House.

Milwaukee Ale House
Milwaukee Ale House

The sailboats moored along the Milwaukee River walk, and people hopped from boat to boat to celebrate with each other after the races.

Louie’s Last Regatta, Milwaukee
Louie’s Last Regatta, Milwaukee
Louie’s Last Regatta 2012

Living right between two big cities is a real blessing - in less than an hour we can be urban-hopping and enjoying great food and entertainment. Milwaukee is Chicago's more casual little brother, with a bit of blue-collar vibe and a lot of friendliness. Wisconsinites are genetically friendly from conception on, though they do enjoy razzing people from Illinois.

Open alcohol laws in Wisconsin have always been different than in Illinois.

Swig Restaurant in Milwaukee
After we soaked up sun and some local beer, we had dinner at the innovative Swig Restaurant. We were feeling a bit sunburnt, so we both had a refreshing Ginger Fresca, a house infused cucumber vodka with fresh muddled cucumber, ginger, and club soda.

We love sharing a bunch of different tastes and the menu looked so good we couldn't narrow down our choices. Luckily, a couple next to us was just served an amazing array of small plates so we asked them what they ordered. They recommended the wonton-wrapped chicken curry (with crushed walnuts and cucumber yogurt dip) and the tempura snap peas with tarragon cream sauce. They were heavenly.

Tempura snap peas at Swig
Tempura snap peas at Swig

For dinner, Joe ordered the rich and creamy wild mushroom gnocchi, made with potato gnocchi, fresh spinach, wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and shaved parmesan. I kept dipping into his plate. The day on the water made me hungry for seafood, so I ordered the seared scallops with red pepper coulis, spinach angel hair pasta, chili white wine sauce and parmesan cheese. Joe dipped into my scallops here and there, but there were plenty of both dishes to take home for a second meal.

The wine prices were reasonable, so Joe had a Casa Silva carmenere from Chile with dinner, and I had Cristalino sparkling wine. I adore a dry sparkling wine with seafood!

The server told us that the ivory exposed brick was a special type of local stone that was used in many Milwaukee buildings a century or two ago, and is prized by architects and restorationists. The pale stone melds well with the modern geometric decor and the place seems to feel hip and welcoming all at the same time.

Swig restaurant, Milwaukee

Swig Restaurant is fairly easy to find in the Third Ward and there is plenty of parking in the area. We definitely recommend a trip there.


217 N Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202



New Nordic Open-Faced Sandwiches (Smørrebrød, Smørbrød, Smörgås)

>> Monday, April 1, 2013

Open-Faced Sandwiches (Smørrebrød, Smørbrød, Smörgås)
From top right: Egg/Radish, Gravlax/Asparagus, and Liverwurst/Watercress Smørrebrød

New Nordic cuisine is hot: Scandinavians have been working for nearly a decade to create a fresh take on their traditional recipes. This includes working with locally-sourced, in-season fruits and vegetables that thrive in the special climate of Nordic countries.

While Chicago is much milder than Norway, I took the spirit of New Nordic cooking to heart when I surprised Joe with a smørbrød (smurd-a-bra) platter for brunch. He had been rehearsing with the worship band all week and then led worship for three Easter services, and when he got home Sunday afternoon, I made a pretty spread of open-faced sandwiches for him.

These traditional sandwiches are usually made with rye or pumpernickel bread spread with butter, pig fat, or mayonnaise. Asparagus, watercress, and radishes looked fresh and tasty at the produce store on Saturday, and are also fairly common to these sandwiches. We used a chewy rye bread, but pumpernickel is also traditional. Taking the latest suggestion from Bon Appetit magazine, we cut the vegetables into a variety of shapes to add visual interest to the plate. The following recipes fed two hungry people.

Egg/Radish smørbrød

Chive and garlic butter (1 tbsp snipped chives in 3 tbsp butter)
2 sliced hardboiled eggs
1 slivered hot radish
1 tbsp chopped celery
1/4 cup sliced cucumber or dill pickle
Dash Sriracha sauce or Sriracha salt for each sandwich

Gravlax/Asparagus smørbrød

3 oz. cured salmon
Horseradish cream cheese with parsley (1 tbsp horseradish in 3 oz cream cheese)
1/4 cup sliced cucumber
1/4 cup shaved raw asparagus
2 tbsp slivered carrots
Dash lemon pepper for each sandwich

Liverwurst/Watercress smørbrød

Dijon mayonnaise (1 tbsp Dijon mustard in 2 tbsp mayonnaise)
3 oz. liver pate
1 slivered hot radish
2 tbsp slivered green onions
1/4 cup chopped watercress

Assemble the sandwiches in the order of ingredients.

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