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Jul 24, 2014
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Just Five: Simple Baked Bay Scallops

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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My family loves to make fun of my nickname for scallops – the marshmallows of the sea. But that is exactly what they are: sweet, tender, delicious and a challenge to cook perfectly. Like a burnt marshmallow, a tough, overcooked scallop is a sad thing to eat.

Most people are familiar with two types of scallops. The larger mollusks (the size of a standard to jumbo-sized marshmallow) are sea scallops, while bay scallops are the smaller variety (more the mini-marshmallow size). Both types are available in most grocery stories and fish markets, and there’s no discernible difference in flavor.

This dish is deceptively simple; after all, there’s no good reason to dress up a properly prepared scallop. Here, you simply poach bay scallops in butter infused with garlic and wine, them top them with Ritz crackers, saltines or panko for crunch. Adding herbs or a little heat would be inspired, but use a light hand. You don’t want to overpower the delicate nautical marshmallow.

Simple Baked Bay Scallops
4 servings

3 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
12 oz. bay scallops, patted dry
4 Tbsp. crisp white wine such as a sauvignon blanc
¾ cup crushed Ritz crackers
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan

• Move the oven rack to the highest level and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Place the butter and garlic in a 24-ounce baking dish and bake 3 minutes, until the butter is melted.
• Remove the baking dish, leaving the oven on. Add the scallops and drizzle the wine over the top. Use a spoon to baste the scallops with the liquid until coated. Sprinkle the crushed crackers and Parmesan cheese over the scallops and bake 10 minutes.
• Switch the oven to the broiler and broil 2 minutes, until the cracker topping is browned.
• Serve with a hunk of bread to soak up the sauce.

Just Five: Honey-Roasted Chickpeas

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, ceci, channa… Call them what you will, I must have two cans of these babies on hand at all times or I panic. Chickpeas are incredible versatile; rinse and throw them straight into salads, pastas and soups, or puree them with garlic, lemon, tahini and olive oil for hummus. Roasting turns them into a crunchy substitute for croutons in a salad (hello, gluten-free eaters!) or a protein-packed snack.

Normally I just toss them with a little salt and cayenne or chili powder before roasting, but this time I upped the flavor factor with one key ingredient: garam masala, a wonderful combination of aromatic spices that marries delightfully with a citrusy honey glaze. Put these out to snack on with a summer shandy or a gin and tonic, or bring them to share at the next barbecue.

Honey-Roasted Chickpeas
Makes 1 cup

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and dried
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. garam masala
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. lemon or orange zest

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread chickpeas on top in a single layer. Roast 40 minutes, tossing occasionally.
• Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey, garam masala, cayenne and salt. Immediately, toss the hot chickpeas into the bowl and evenly coat them with the glaze. Pour them back onto the baking sheet and roast another 10 minutes.
• Remove from the oven and toss with the zest. Let cool and serve.

Just Five: Grilled Endive Salad with Cannellini Beans

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

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Endive makes me feel like a “fancy” grown-up. First, there’s the pronunciation. I love that you can say AHN’-deev or EN’-dyve – I do enjoy ingredients that put on airs. Also it’ rather bitter, but once grilled, a bit of natural sweetness comes out. And only the fanciest grown-ups have developed a taste for bitter things, right?

This is a great dish for a summer barbecue, especially for long-suffering vegetarians, with simple, clean, fresh flavors and a nice combination of textures. Leftovers are equally delightful chopped up and served with grilled chicken or steak. So invite your AUH’-nt over, fill the VAH’-ze with flowers and grill up some AHN’-deev for her, DAH’-ling!

Grilled Endive Salad with Cannellini Beans
4 to 6 Servings

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
¼ cup chopped fresh dill, divided
4 heads Belgian endive
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese

• Prepare the grill for high, direct heat.
• Meanwhile, in a saute pan over medium-low heat, warm the cannellini beans for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from heat.
• In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil and half the dill, and toss with the beans. Set aside.
• Trim the ends of the endive, without removing the stem holding the leavings together. Slice each head in half lengthwise. Brush the cut side of the endive with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
• Brush the grate with a bit of olive oil and grill the endive about 4 minutes, until leaves just begin to curl and char. Remove from heat.
• Place the grilled endive cut-side-up in a serving dish. Spoon the beans over the endive and top with remaining dill and feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or room temperature.

 

 

Just Five: Quick Strawberry Balsamic Shrub

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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Alert: This will be the summer of the shrub. These fruit syrups preserved with vinegar are popping up in bars all over St. Louis, and they are simple to make at home, too. When it comes to spirit combinations, the sky is the limit. Choose your base flavor from stone fruit, berries, citrus or herbs, add a tart vinegar (cider, champagne, balsamic, red wine, etc.) and sugar. A true shrub is a day-long process akin to canning or preserving, but this recipe gets you from berry to beverage in less than 30 minutes.

I love the combination of berries and balsamic vinegar, and since strawberries are everywhere right now, this was an easy choice. I used it as the base in four cocktails, each with a different spirit: gin, bourbon, vodka or dark rum. The vodka drink tasted like regret; it reminded me that I just don’t like vodka. The bourbon was too strong for this variety, but it would be wonderful with a peach shrub. The dark rum was a bit too sweet for me, but I managed to drink it all – in the name of research. But the gin? Well, Baby Bear, the gin was just right. If you’re not a drinker, shrubs also make sweet-tart, refreshing sodas.

Quick Strawberry Balsamic Shrub
Makes 1½ cups shrub

1 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered
½ cup sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Gin (optional)
Soda water (optional)

• Place the strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons water into a saucepan over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the berries with a spoon.
• Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and strain the mixture, pressing the fruit with a spoon and scraping the bottom of the sieve to remove all the juice. Discard the solids. You should have about 1½ cups. Shrub will keep refrigerated 7 to 10 days.
• For a cocktail: Pour 1½ ounces of strawberry shrub into a tall glass with ice. Add 2 ounces gin and stir well.
• For a nonalcoholic beverage: Pour 1½ ounces of strawberry shrub into a tall glass with ice. Add ½ cup soda water and stir to combine.

 

 

Just Five: No-Bake Granola Bars

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

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The phrase “no-bake” is right up there with “low-fat” and “fruit juice-sweetened” on my list of things I am not interested in cooking or eating. So imagine my surprise when I started playing with this recipe from Minimalist Baker; now, my new Sunday tradition is making – not baking –  granola bars for the week.

Making homemade granola is incredibly satisfying. It’s simple, versatile and healthy; I know exactly what’s in it, unlike prepackaged store granola. I started baking granola about a year ago, and the recipe for this pistachio-studded version quickly became my go-to. But while that recipe is absolutely delicious, it’s rather high in fat.

However using sweet pureed dates and natural peanut butter as binders in these no-bake bars cuts the fat down considerably. Add chocolate chips, chopped dried fruit, banana chips or other nuts and seeds if you like. I’ve never made it the same way twice, which sometimes infuriates my family. But you can be sure they beg for more every Sunday!

No-Bake Granola Bars
Adapted from a Minimalist Baker recipe
8 Servings

10 to 12 (8 oz.) dried dates, pitted
1½ cups rolled oats*
1 cup roasted unsalted almonds, chopped
1/3 cup chunky natural peanut butter
¼ cup honey (Agave syrup, maple syrup or sorghum will also work)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or other neutral oil
Pinch of kosher salt

• Add the dates to the bowl of a food processor and until they reach a sticky, paste-like consistency. Scoop the date puree into a large bowl with the oats and almonds.
• In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the peanut butter and honey until melted and viscous. Stir in the coconut oil and salt. Pour the melted peanut butter over the oat mixture and combine with a wooden spoon or your hands, chopping and stirring until the mixture is well-incorporated.
• Line an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with plastic wrap. Scrape the granola mixture into the dish and press it evenly in the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze 20 minutes.
• Transfer the chilled granola to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice them into 8 2-by-4-inch bars. Granola bars will keep in an airtight container up to 1 week.

*Optional: Bake the oats in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes for a toasted flavor.

 

 

Just Five: Chicken Bruschetta

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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It always surprises me what my family gets excited about. Maybe it’s the age (two teenage girls, God save me), but sometimes it seems the more effort and thought I put into a complex dish, the less enthusiastic the response. Yet this “so simple it should be boring” dish won all the votes at home. Perhaps it’s because we practically live on grilled chicken and bruschetta in the summer. With no budget for a sunny getaway, closing our eyes and eating this dish is as close to vacation as we get.

This is one of those recipes that made everyone happy including me, since you can really play with it. You could make a simple “dressing” with of garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and to toss with basil, parsley and arugula and top your bruschetta. Toasted pine nuts or walnuts? Heck yeah! You can even switch up the protein; I think thinly sliced steak would be amazing with this dish. Or use a different cheese like fontina or provolone – though I am partial to the smoked mozzarella. Whatever combination you choose, it’s a dish that’s family-friendly, great for a busy weeknight, and quite possibly the easiest high five you’ll get all week.

Just Five: Chicken Bruschetta
4 to 6 Servings

1 baguette
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cups shredded smoked mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup fresh basil, torn or chopped

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Slice the baguette on the bias into ¾-inch slices. Lightly brush each slice with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 6 minutes, then set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.
• Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken with salt and pepper 5 minutes, until cooked through. Add the tomatoes and toss 30 seconds more. Remove from heat.
• Place a heaping spoonful of the chicken-tomato mixture on each toast. Top each slice with 2 to 3 tablespoons of cheese and bake 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve immediately.

Just Five: Avocado Mousse in Chocolate Cups

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

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File this recipe under “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” or “Here’s a fun thing to do with that empty egg carton.” I’ve tried the vegan avocado chocolate mousse that’s currently all over the Internet, but I had trouble getting over the mouth feel, so I wasn’t entirely convinced this recipe would wow me. But here’s the trick: add whipping cream for wonderful lightness and blood orange juice to complement the semisweet chocolate.

After I made the mousse, my daughters gathered around the kitchen counter.

Me: “Try some.”
Them: “What is it?”
Me: “I’m not telling you. Just try it. It’s good.”
Them: “Is it wasabi?”
Me: “No, I’m not putting wasabi mousse into chocolate cups. Thanks for your confidence in my culinary combinations. Try it.”

It’s rare to get a positive response to anything from 13- and 15-year-old girls, but this was a winner. Since I made a double batch of mousse, I stirred in a handful of chocolate chips into the leftovers and froze it for “ice cream” later. File that under “Brilliant Leftovers.”

Avocado Mousse in Chocolate Cups
Inspired by Aldi’s recipes
Makes 12 cups

¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and pitted
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
½ cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp. blood orange juice (or regular orange juice)

• Clean and dry an empty foam egg carton* and cut out each cup.
• Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and melt on high 30 seconds. Remove, stir, microwave for another 30 seconds, repeating as necessary until the chocolate chips are fully melted. Pour about 1 tablespoon of melted chocolate into each cup and tilt to coat the sides. Place the cups on a baking sheet and freeze 30 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place the avocado, condensed milk and whipping cream in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the blood orange juice, and pulse again. Remove the blade, scrape down sides, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
• To assemble, carefully slide a knife between the egg carton cup and the chocolate; the edible cup should come out easily. Fill each chocolate cup with a scoop of the chilled mousse. Refrigerate for 1 hour, then serve.

* You can also use foil or silicon cupcake liners.

The List: Stephanie Fischer at Comet Coffee & Microbakery

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Welcome to The List, our annual homage to the people, places, dishes and drinks we love in St. Louis. Don’t miss a single pick; click here to read the whole List and share your thoughts on Twitter with #thesaucelist.

 

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“You have to see my ingredients,” said pint-sized Stephanie Fischer as she led me into Comet Coffee’s tiny kitchen. Squeezing between her hardworking KitchenAid mixer and her equally hardworking pastry chef Megan Cronin, Fischer proudly pulled out a pound of butter with an 83 percent butterfat content, organic milk and eggs, and decadent couverture chocolate made in France.

Only 24 years old, Fischer is the co-owner of Comet Coffee and the brains behind its remarkable baking program. Her ingredients are locally sourced and organic whenever possible. Everything is made from scratch, including her amazing croissants that are rolled out by hand, “because for now,” she said, “there’s no room for a machine.” Another one of her must-try baked goods: The Rebel Within, a savory muffin baked with Asiago cheese and studded with bits of Salume Beddu’s chorizo sausage. Much like its maker, this muffin isn’t pretentious, showy or loud – it’s simply great. And tucked inside this modest morsel, like a secret, is a soft-boiled egg.

5708 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, 314.932.7770, cometcoffeestl.com

-photo by Carmen Troesser

Just Five: Leeks Vinaigrette

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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This is a classic French dish that, like many French recipes, is simpler than you expect. (That accent makes them sound far more intimidating than they really are!) The mellow leek marinated in a mustard dressing mixed with tarragon’s delicate licorice flavor makes for a truly cultured dish. Adding a final flourish of chopped hard-boiled egg lends an extra creaminess and complements the texture of the leeks. Serve this with a simply prepared chicken breast, a lightly seared tuna or as a main dish with some peasant bread and nicoise olives.

Leeks Vinaigrette
4 Servings

2 eggs
4 small leeks, dark green ends removed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish

• Hard-boil the eggs: Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes. Transfer to an ice water bath for 10 minutes, then them remove and refrigerate until ready to use.
• Slice the leek almost in half, stopping ¾-inch from the root. Rinse under cold water to remove any dirt or grit between the layers. Keeping the base of the leek intact, trim the end to remove the root.
• Bring 2 quarts salted water to boil. Submerge the leeks in the boiling water, lower the heat to medium, and simmer 12 minutes.
• Carefully remove the leeks and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain them on paper towels, then slice through the leek completely, separating the halves. Place on a serving dish and set aside.
• In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the tarragon. Pour the vinaigrette over the leeks and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
• Bring the leeks to room temperature 2 hours before serving. Peel the hard-boiled eggs and separate the white and the yolk. Coarsely chop the egg. Garnish the leeks with chopped egg and chopped tarragon and serve.

Just Five: Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

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You can and should make crackers at home. Homemade crackers are far better than anything you will find in the grocery aisles. They are cheap, easy to make and give you a decent upper body workout while you roll out the dough paper-thin. Without the pepper, rosemary and cheese, these crackers are your basic butter cracker, but so much better than store-bought ones. They bake up with crispy browned bubbles and only take about 30 minutes from start to eat.

Like bread, crackers are a fun blank canvas. Try adding a little lemon zest and serve with a mild cheese, or mix in minced dates or minced dried cranberries and serve with bold cheddar. You can even add finely chopped black olives to crackers and spread with a tangy goat cheese or feta.

The key to these crackers is rolling the dough as thin as possible. If you don’t, the crackers will be a bit chewy. Here’s the trick: flip the baking sheet over and roll the dough out directly onto the bottom of the sheet. This way, you won’t bang your pin or your knuckles on the rim of your baking sheet and you can bake them directly on this surface. Be sure to place a slightly damp towel under the baking sheet to keep it from sliding while you roll. Here’s the recipe, now – I can’t help myself – get crackin’!

Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers
Makes 40 to 50 crackers

2 cups flour plus more for dusting
1 Tbsp. sugar, plus more to taste
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2/3 cup milk (not skim)

• Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
• Add the flour, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary and cheese to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the pieces of chilled butter and process about 10 seconds, until the butter is incorporated. With the food processor running, pour in the milk and blend until the dough comes together.
• Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and cut in half. Flip a baking sheet and roll out one of the dough halves as thin as possible (It should be almost transparent.). Repeat with the remaining dough ball on the bottom of another baking sheet.
• Sprinkle the dough with salt and pepper to taste. Then pierce the dough all over with a fork and score it with a knife into 1½-inch squares or whatever size cracker you’d like.
• Bake on the inverted baking sheets 12 to 13 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes, then move the crackers onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
• Crackers will keep up to 1 week in an airtight container.

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