Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Flavors of Celery

Celery is vastly underappreciated. Sure, it's an ingredient in mirepoix, but how often is it the star of the show, the feature flavor? I, for one, love its juicy crunch and bitter herbaceousness. Here's a dish that is a study in the flavor of celery. It was inspired by celeriac from the farmers market.

I added lovage from the garden and celery seeds for a variety of different celery flavor notes.

But before I get to the recipe, I'd like to invite you to visit my new photography portfolio. I've added a link to it in the sidebar on the right. It's a work in progress, but I hope you like it!

Celeriac Soup with Seared Scallops & Lovage Oil*
Printable Recipe

1 celeriac, diced
1 leek, pale parts only, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
1 small parsnip, diced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig Italian parsley
2 tablespoons packed lovage leaves
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 large sea scallops (about 1 pound), feet removed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon celery seeds, ground
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the celeriac, leek, parsnip, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and 2 quarts water in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the celeriac is tender.

Meanwhile, combine the lovage and ¼ cup of the oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Gently pat the scallops dry with paper towels. Season them generously with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the celery seed, and set aside at room temperature for about half an hour.

Strain the lovage oil through a fine mesh sieve. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the scallops and cook without disturbing for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they release from the pan and are crusty and brown. Using tongs, turn the scallops and continue to cook over high heat another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the desired doneness. Moisture will just begin to accumulate on the surface of the scallops when they are medium-rare. Remove the scallops to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Discard the bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig from the soup, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the scallops in shallow individual bowls, divide the soup among them, being careful not to pour it directly over the scallops, and drizzle with the lovage oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6. Celeriac is also known as celery root. Leeks tend to be very dirty, so rinse them thoroughly after you chop them. Celery leaves can be used if lovage leaves are unavailable. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving.

*For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Big News and Chocolate Therapy

You know when life is so crazy busy that the only thing keeping you going is a good dose of dark chocolate? Well, that's how my life has been lately. I've had too many irons in the fire. It's why I haven't been here in a more than a couple of weeks…

Happily, I'm back now. And I have something really important to share. You see, I've been keeping a secret from you, but now I can finally tell—I HAVE A NEW COOKBOOK IN THE WORKS!!! It's all about flavored butters, a subject I'm passionate about because I use flavored butters in place of sauces all the time. I began to write about them in my first book Seared to Perfection, and now I'm going to have a book dedicated to flavored butters! My kitchen has been a frenzy of buttery recipe testing. Compound butters. Brown Butters. Drawn butters. Butters, butters, and more butters! Every meal I've made, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, has been anointed with a melting slice of flavored butter. My manuscript, which includes over 50 recipes for sweet and savory butters, is done now, and I couldn't be more excited because my publisher Harvard Common Press has already accepted it (my editor may have used the words "love it" when he told me). And on top of all that, they're considering hiring me to do the photography for the book! Over the next days, my agenda is to photograph flavored butters in all their luscious glory so that I can present them with a couple of sample images good enough to win the job. Keep your fingers crossed for me because I want nothing more than to do the photography for my book myself.

And as if that wasn't enough to keep me frantically busy, I was asked to teach an introductory baking class at Mount Hood Community College. I took on the job even though I was given only half a week to prepare for the term. What can I say, I just can't pass up a teaching opportunity!

A couple of other announcements…In case you've been wondering about that new footer you see down there, I accepted an invitation from The Daily Meal to become a member of their culinary network. It's a very cool website for food-minded people, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Check out the From Culinary Content Network section to see my last post about Savoy cabbage from the farmers market featured. Also, I'd like to thank Sweetspot.ca for featuring my Tuna Salad Niçoise.

Anyway, it's time for another dose of chocolate therapy to keep me going.

And off to work on that butter photo shoot!

Mint Chocolate Bars
Printable Recipe

For the shortbread crust:
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dish
7 ounces all-purpose flour
¾ ounce cocoa powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces sugar

For the chocolate layer:
3 ounces heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

Make the shortbread crust:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and line with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, place the bowl over a medium pan of simmering water, and heat, stirring frequently, until melted. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium until blended. Beat in the chocolate until thoroughly combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until the dough comes together, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to the baking dish and press into an even layer. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm. Let cool to room temperature.

Make the chocolate layer:
Bring the cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the chocolate into a small bowl, add the hot cream and peppermint extract, and whisk until smooth. Pour the chocolate mixture over the shortbread and spread evenly. Let cool for a couple of hours, or until set.

To serve:
Using the parchment paper, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into portions and serve.

Makes 12 bars. For a professional-looking presentation, cut the bars using a hot knife and wipe it clean between cuts. Bars keep for several days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.
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