Friday, February 15, 2008

Seafood and a Trio of Desserts

I really do like Valentine's Day. I like the idea of it, not so much for the cards or the flowers, but just the idea that I can spend the whole day creating things for 1 person. It is a calm holiday without guests or gifts or much hoopla at all. It actually creeps up out of nowhere and is gone in a flash.
Each year I spend the better part of the day preparing special dishes that will excite our taste buds but ooze romance as well. This year I decided to focus on seafood simply because it is out of the ordinary. I should say fish is out of the ordinary. Shrimp makes a regular appearance at our house. I love shrimp in all forms and I think it has been a staple at every holiday event I've hosted for as long as I can remember. I thought Joseph would see that I decided to play a little switch-a-roo on him. This year I went with big succulent scallops and a cod dish. We've eaten cod before, but I had never cooked any so I knew he would never guess it was coming. The salad course came from epicurious and I must say it was a huge hit. I was totally thrilled with it all around. First of all, it came together in just a couple of minutes, I got to try cooking escarole-I'd never actually put lettuce in a hot pan before, and the prosciutto chips were so so tasty.
The cod on chowder dish was terrific as well. I was able to make the chowder an hour or so in advance and simply sear off the cod right before serving which made it pretty easy as well. I wouldn't mind eating the chowder on it's own...or the cod for that matter. It was just a super tasty dish. So good, in fact, that I didn't end up making the mushroom ravioli I had planned(my back up plan in case the other two went up in flames) and we went straight to the desserts. I made three tiny desserts, two of which were terrific, and the third was just okay. There was a texture issue with the lemon time I will be replacing it with lemon cheesecake. The chocolate mousse was terrific though. It totally made up in the texture department where the other was lacking. Gabe loved the mousse, he kept licking his spoon saying "ice cream," we just nodded and smiled as he enjoyed his "ice cream." Finally, the third was delightful as well. It actually reminded us of strawberry shortcake - even with it's blackberry cream.

Warm Escarole Salad with Seared Scallops
adapted from

2 paper-thin slices prosciutto
2 T olive oil, divided
1 head escarole

4 sea scallops
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t grated lemon peel
First, brush each side of the prosciutto olive oil. Slice each piece of prosciutto into 3 strips. Heat a heavy medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add slices of prosciutto. Cook until bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn prosciutto over and cook until bottom is browned, flattening with spatula, about 1 minute longer. Using tongs, transfer prosciutto to paper towels to crisp. Reserve skillet.
Slice head of escarole into quarters. Drizzle two of the quarters with olive oil. Place in a large skillet over high heat. Cook until slightly wilted on edges and warmed. Remove and roughly chop.

Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil in reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops and cook until brown and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, and a touch more olive oil to drippings in skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour pan juices over greens and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among 2 plates and top with scallops. Garnish with prosciutto chips and serve.

Roast Cod with a New Engliand Chowder Sauce
adapted from Alfred Portale's Simple Pleasures
2 oz slab bacon, diced
1 cup clam juice
1 T oil
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c diced leek
1 t finely chopped garlic
2 medium white potatoes, diced
2/3 c heavy cream
1/3 c milk
salt pepper
4 skin-on cod fillets (4 oz each)
2 T olive oil
green onion or parsley to garnish

(I took a shortcut and used clam juice and skipped the first step of steaming 16 littleneck clams. If you happen to like eating those little rubbery guys do as suggested and steam the clams and serve the dish with the clams as well.)
Heat a large pot with 1 tablsepoon of oil and add bacon. Cook until fat has been rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove bacon.
Add the onions ot the pot of rendered fat and saute until soft, but not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the leeks and the garlic to this and cook an additional 2 minutes. Return half of the bacon to the pot along with the potatoes, cream, and clam juice. Season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high, bringing to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
In a large saute pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Season cod with salt and pepper on both sides and then place skin side down in the pan. Cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook through...roughly 3 minutes depending on how thick of a but you have.
Serve cod atop chowder. Garnish with reserved bacon and green onions or parsley.

Check out Bea's blog for the chocolate mousse/custard:
(Here I changed out bittersweet for semi-sweet, personal preference)
She also inspired the lemon custard dessert:
The strawberry dessert, again roughly inspired by Bea:

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