seared scallops with meyer lemon beurre blanc

Our days are numbered.  Finally.

I rushed home with takeout sushi, hoping to beat B to the apartment.  I had failed.  As I walked into the house and tried to keep Brix from having a heart attack, I saw the bottle of bubbly on the counter and as I pushed the door the rest of the way open, I saw my husband.  I went to greet him with a hug and kiss as I always do, but this time was superceded by my congratulations.  He got a job in Kansas City.  Five long months of living apart were finally over.  I thought I could keep it together.  I failed again.

I sobbed as I hugged him tight, so thankful for the end to be in sight.  I sniffled through the opening of the celebratory sparkling wine and wiped tears away as the glasses were filled with the golden liquid.  It was a special wine (the same he had used in his marriage proposal) and I’ll tell you this – that wine, with a side of good news, tasted damn good.

But, if you know anything about me by this point, you know that I can’t call a celebration complete with a meal carted into the house in styrofoam containers and a plastic grocery bag.  We needed a little J & B style celebration.  We spent a great weekend together with beautiful weather and a plethora of activities in our new hometown.  I wanted to close the weekend with something special and decidedly spring.  Fat asparagus and delicate sea scallops seemed like a fantastic idea, but I needed a little more to push the meal to celebratory mode.  Remember how I said my favorite food was sauce?  Enter beurre blanc.

Beurre blanc is like risotto to me, meaning, once you get the technique down, you can play with it and modify it as your heart desires.  With the richness of the scallops and the bright asparagus, I wanted to counter the additional richness of the sauce with a bright splash of Meyer lemon.  To me, Meyer lemons taste like a honeyed, herbal version of a lemon.  Some call the flavor a cross between an orange and a lemon, but there’s something deeper under the surface that enhances the dishes in which it is included. 

One of the best things about this meal is that it comes together in a flash – the scallops take just minutes to sear and the sauce pulls together as fast as butter melts.  All of this was a good thing, because we were anxious to open another bottle of bubbles to celebrate our good news.  Sadly, the meal ended as all do – no food remaining and too short of a time had passed.  As B packed up the car yet again and I walked to the car with Brix, I greeted our weekend ritual of parting a little differently.  I was sad to see him go, certainly.  But I didn’t cry, unlike the other 21 Sundays since this began.  I had cried tears of joy on Friday.

seared scallops with meyer lemon beurre blanc

recipe:  jb’s pour house

 

1 lb. sea scallops, rinsed and patted thoroughly dry

1 c. dry white wine, such as chardonnay

2 Meyer lemons

3 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp. black peppercorns

2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes (preferrably European style)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Canola oil

Combine white wine, zest and juice of Meyer lemons, shallot, rosemary, white wine vinegar and black peppercorns in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil until reduced to about 1/3 cup.  Strain remaining liquid into a small bowl.  Discard solids and wipe out the saucepan.  Return the liquid to the saucepan and place over medium low heat.  Begin to whisk in butter, one cube at a time, until butter is thoroughly incorporated.  Do not let sauce sit without stirring and do not let it boil, or you will break the sauce.  Once all butter has been incorporated, season to taste with salt.  Reduce heat to low and remove pan from heat.  Alternately place pan back on heat and whisk often as scallops are cooking to prevent sauce from breaking.

Place a large skillet over high heat.  Add about 1-2 Tbsp. canola oil.  Season both sides of scallops lightly with salt and pepper.  Place scallops in pan and sear, about 2-3 minutes, being careful not to move scallops once placed in the pan.  Turn scallops over and sear for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and serve immediately with as much beurre blanc as you like!  (You may want a piece of bread to sop up all of the deliciousness.)

Fin.

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 – 2011 jb’s pour house

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butter burgers with spotted cow battered cheese curds

note:  this is the second of a three-part series chronicling a recent romp around Green County in southwestern Wisconsin, aka “Baja Wisconsin” to my family

The gravel lot was filled with cars haphazardly parked.  Flicks of the dairy cattle’s tails waved with the breeze as they happily munched their breakfast in the sun after a long night of rain. The hills, more sparkling green after the night’s storm, rolled across the countryside.  Two older men in faded denim and mesh John Deere caps flagged us to a waiting spot.  Inside the fans hummed as the employees bustled about filling orders for waiting patrons in the small, closet-like space.

“The Curd is the Word.”

T-shirts boasted the Decatur Dairy’s slogan as they danced in the breeze above row after row of bags filled with cheese curds.  Muenster, Cheddar, Bleu Cheese, Buffalo, Garlic & Herb, Peppercorn Ranch, Wasabi, and on and on the labels read.  Those in the know head to the dairy early to snatch up the freshest cheese curds – ones that squeak so loudly against your teeth you’d swear your companions could hear the symphony of squeaks muffled in your mouth.  As hand cut wedges of cheese and bags of curds piled up against the counter, the cash register ticked along happily as the order total grew.  Outside, we sat on the concrete against the stainless tanks filled high with fresh milk and munched on our treasures.  Ah, a Wisconsin breakfast.

Bags of differing flavors were opened in the morning sun and we stretched and reached across one another, dipping our hands into the bags being offered to sample the noisy chunks of cheese.  Heads nodded, accompanied by approvals of “yum” in between squeaky bites.  Recipe ideas were tossed out as suggestions for savoring the cheesy bites.  “Fried cheese curds,” someone said.

“Spotted Cow fried cheese curds!” I shouted, raising my arms in victory to the exclamations and grumbling stomach noises that met my proclamation.  As the bags were sealed and stored away and the cars were packed with the morning’s treasures, I pondered my idea further and wondered how I could take the cheese curds to the next level of awesomeness.

Our travels around the country continued (see part 1) and by mid afternoon, we had made it to our final stop in New Glarus.  After only a few quick minutes in the main shopping district in town, new shopping bags had joined the growing collection and were filled with sausages, smoked wieners, pastries, breads, fudge and a new cooler given those in the waiting cars were already filled to the brim.  We steered away from town and headed up the hill to the waiting New Glarus Brewing Company.

The new hilltop facility bustled with activity as happy patrons milled around the gift shop, sampled brews in the brewhall or across the emerald lawn, and rang up their purchases in the well-stocked beer depot below the brewery.  New Glarus is famous for their Spotted Cow – a fruity Wisconsin farmhouse ale and a perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer day.  Spotted Cow is disappointingly NOT available outside of the state of Wisconsin (as is the case with all New Glarus brews).  *boo*

That being said, it was 3:23 when we rolled into the bustling lot and with the brewery closing at 4:00, I had work to do.  Wristbands containing sampling tickets were quickly purchased and as we stood in line in the brewhall, I contemplated which of the brews to try first.  The clean white tap handles announced the names of the beers available to sample:  Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel, Moon Man, Totally Naked, Golden Ale, Stone Soup and Wisconsin Belgian Red.  We sipped and sampled our way through our allotment and watched as the clouds rolled in overhead.  Fearing either rain, the beer depot closing or both, we downed the last of our samples and headed into the store to buy up our treasures before the registers stopped chiming for the day.

As we drove off from the brewery, bottles tinkling happily in the back, the idea of the Spotted Cow fried cheese curds again came to mind.  They’d be great on their own, no doubt about that.  A zippy little dipping sauce and we’d have a happy snack (plus a mandatory trip to the gym).  But I needed something that screamed “Wisconsin!!”  Visions of double smoked bacon and fresh brats from the butcher danced in front of me.  No, that wasn’t it…  And suddenly, I knew.  It must be a butter burger with Spotted Cow curds.  The butter burger (now most frequently recognized as a Culver’s menu staple) originated in Wisconsin.  What better way to pay homage to the beer and cheese gods than with a burger topped with butter and beer battered cheese curds?!  Cardiologist needed, stat!

It’d be fairly easy to overwhelm with this burger, so I opted for simplicity when it came to the patty itself.  A little Worcestershire, a dash or two of a mesquite seasoning, and a light crust of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder were all I dared to add.  Knowing this baby was destined for a pat of butter and a crown of fried cheese, what more do you really need?  We sliced up a few tomatoes and a red onion for a little freshness and flavor and opted for the basic fixin’s of ketchup and mustard.  Writing this now, I’m disappointed that I didn’t put a pickle on mine, as the brininess of the pickle would have helped to cut a little of the weight of the curds.  I’ll let you make the call regarding pickles, but the burger as I made it had just the right amount of condiments.  They contributed to the overall flavor without drowning out the beer battered curds.

A word to the wise regarding the curds – hot and fast is the way to go.  A candy thermometer is a must-have.  You want your oil temperature to be about 375 degrees – hot enough to fry the outside quickly without damaging the delicate shell keeping all of the oozy, melty cheese at bay.  I wanted a lighter batter, so I opted for a tempura batter with equal parts rice flour and beer.  As the cheese from my first curd oozed out of the batter into my hot oil, I found one coating wasn’t enough to contain the molten cheese.  I quickly dipped the curds back into rice flour and dropped them back into the beer batter for a double coat and was happy with the results.  The cheese stayed within the shell and the resulting batter still had the lighter crust I was after. 

Now, if only I knew what to do with the rest of those cheese curds…

butter burgers with spotted cow battered cheese curds

recipe:  jb’s pour house

1 lb. 85% lean ground beef

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp. mesquite seasoning

Garlic powder

Onion Powder

Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Hamburger buns

Canola oil

1 lb. cheddar cheese curds

1/2 c. plus 1/4 c. rice flour

1/2 c. Spotted Cow beer

Unsalted butter

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1 beefsteak tomato, thinly sliced

Condiments of choice

Preheat a grill to medium high.  Combine ground beef and Worcestershire sauce in a medium mixing bowl.  Form beef into four patties.  Sprinkle with a light dusting of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder.  Flip burgers over and repeat on opposite side.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the burgers for 4-5 minutes on each side.

As burgers are grilling, fill a large wok, stockpot, or other deep pan about 1/4 full of canola oil.  Using a candy thermometer, bring oil to 350 degrees.  Combine cheddar curds and 1/4 rice flour in a small bowl.  Toss to coat.  Combine remaining rice flour and Spotted Cow in a medium bowl.  Stir until flour is thoroughly incorporated.  Dunk curds in batter, then coat again with rice flour (adding more flour as needed).  Repeat with all curds.  Once curds are coated in rice flour, dunk 4-5 at a time back into batter and carefully add to hot oil.  Fry 2-3 minutes, watching closely to ensure cheese doesn’t seep out.  Remove with a slotted spoon.  Repeat with remaining curds.  Curds can be prepared in advance and placed on a baking sheet and kept warm in a 200 degree oven for up to 15-20 minutes.

Remove burgers from grill and top with a pat of butter.  Transfer the burgers to the buns. Top each burger with cheese curds, onion, tomato and condiments, as desired.

Uff da!

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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key lime pound cake

“In my mind, I’m going to Carolina.  Can’t you see the sunshine?  Can’t you just feel the moonshine?”

This song has been on continuous repeat in my mind, playing over and over ever since it kicked off my youngest sister’s wedding reception on a stormy beach on Hilton Head Island in March.  It played over and over as I packed us up for a vacation back to Hilton Head – one of my favorite places – just a few weeks ago.  And it plays in my head still, beckoning me back to the sea pines, to the sandy beaches, and to the lazy harbors I’ve come to love in the more than 15 years since my first visit there.  Sadly, a return trip isn’t in the cards in the immediate future.  But if I do a little baking and close my eyes, you’ll find me going to Carolina in my mind.

There’s a hidden little gem on the island that’s known, at least amongst my family, for their pound cakes.  My newlywed sister called as we were vacationing to make a few requests:  a shrimp po’boy and a slice of key lime pound cake.  I wasn’t too keen on the idea of packing shrimp alongside my flip flops and sunscreen for the return home, so instead I set out to at least provide the key lime pound cake so we could have a little taste of the Palmetto State whenever wanderlust strikes.

There’s something magically “vacation-y” about the flavor of key lime for those of us in landlocked states.  The simultaneously tart, sweet and almost creamy flavor instantly refreshes and reminds us that we’re in a warmer, sunnier place.  The palm trees don’t hurt, either.  Key lime has been one of my favorite flavors for as long as I can remember.  Every time we’d go to visit my grandparents when they were living in Florida, I’d always have to stop for a slice of my favorite key lime pie.  Super tart and creamy with just a hint of frost from the super chilled refrigerator, it was the perfect way to combat the heat of the summer sun.  To me, key lime is as refreshing to my palate as a sudden jump into the pool at 4:00 on a hot and sticky afternoon.

I was intrigued by this key lime pound cake and set out to make a lighter, less dense version than the traditional pound cake.  Disclaimer:  I don’t bake much.  I don’t like to measure.  Therefore, as I willy-nilly added ingredients here and there, I wasn’t so sure of what the final product would look or taste like.  To be honest, taste was good.  It was pleasantly tangy, perfectly flavored with the key lime and sweetened condensed milk.  Looks were good too – at least for the first five minutes out of the oven.  My lightening attempts (whipping the egg whites into soft peaks before folding into the batter) resulted in a concave center to my lovely cake when I returned to see how the cooling process was progressing.  Mistake #2 was leaving the cake in the pan for a full 24 hours, covering with plastic wrap, and transporting across state lines so my little sister could have a taste.  My advice would be to follow the directions as written below.  Hopefully you’ll have better luck.

key lime pound cake

recipe:  adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Food, Florida Key West Inc., and Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Salt

4 large eggs

3/4 c. plus 2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. grated key lime zest plus 1 Tbsp.

1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk

1/2 c. key lime juice

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a loaf pan.  Sift 1 1/2 c. flour onto waxed paper.  Spoon the flour back into the sifter and add baking powder and a good pinch of salt.  Sift the flour mixture two more times.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs until light and lemon colored.  Add in 1 1/2 tsp. key lime zest, sweetened condensed milk, and key lime juice.  Mix until thoroughly combined. 

Gradually fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Combine remaining key lime zest and 2 tsp. sugar.  Sprinkle over the top of the cake and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick pierced in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a baking sheet.  Serve in slices.

Here’s to Carolina dreamin’!

-j

PS – even as I loaded these pictures to Flickr, an ad for visiting Charleston appeared as my photos uploaded.  It must be fate!

All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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radishes with tarragon beurre blanc

There are a few sauces in the culinary realm that really trip my trigger.  Beurre blanc happens to be a shining example.  In fact, it is not uncommon to hear me say that I would take a bath in it.  I heart beurre blanc.  (You may also hear me say that about ponzu sauce, but let’s save that for another day).  I happen to think that beurre blanc is the bee’s knees.  I love that you can start with a handful of base ingredients then twist and morph it into an endless variety of tasty treats for dipping (or drowning, as in my case) veggies, meats, seafood… oh the list goes on and on.  But really, can you go wrong with a sauce that is 95% butter?  I think not.  Jenny Craig, cover your eyes and ears (and mouth!).

Literally translated from French, beurre blanc means “white butter.”  You can sound super impressive and use the French name (say burr bl-ah-nc) or you can just say butter sauce.  Either way you say it, it is damn tasty.  It is a rich, velvety sauce with a hint of acidity, either from vinegar/lemon juice and white wine.  You can also make it with red wine, but at that point, it becomes beurre noir.  See?  You’re learning French today, too!  It does take just a little bit of babysitting, as you continually whisk the butter into the reduced wine piece by piece, which allows the butter to slowly incorporate into the sauce and not separate.  Remember the scene in Ratatouille?  “Don’t let that beurre blanc separate!  Keep whisking!”

I digress.  As I said before, I’m a sucker for the stuff.  I was browsing around, looking for quintessentially spring recipe ideas, and I stumbled across this.  In France (and elsewhere), it is traditional to eat raw radishes with butter and salt, often on fresh bread.  It is said that the richness of the butter cuts the bite of the radish.  So I thought, why not take it up a notch and turn that butter into a rich butter sauce, add a little tarragon, and really knock it out of the park?  Gourmet, you had me at beurre blanc.

You can certainly use regular radishes, but I wanted to wait until our Farmer’s Market had bunches of French Breakfast radishes.  (See a theme here?)  French Breakfast radishes have just a little bite compared to the more horseradish-like bite of a traditional radish.  They are long and thin, rather than round and wide, and are vermilion red with a delicate white tip.  Once cleaned of all of their dirt and their greens trimmed, they are a stunning display of jewel-like vegetables.  And once dunked into a decadent beurre blanc, they are gone.

radishes with tarragon beurre blanc

recipe:  adapted from Gourmet (I miss you so)

2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

½ tsp. whole black peppercorns

1 c. dry white wine (such as chardonnay)

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes (European style if you can find it)

1 ½ Tbsp. finely chopped tarragon

Kosher salt

Radishes, cleaned and greens trimmed 

Combine shallot, white wine vinegar, peppercorns and wine in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and reduce to about ⅓ c.  Strain reduced wine into a small bowl, discard solids, wipe out saucepan and return wine to pan.  Reduce heat to low and whisk butter into sauce, one cube at a time, until fully incorporated.  Repeat with remaining butter.  Remove from heat and add tarragon.  Season to taste with salt.  Serve immediately with radishes and additional kosher salt.  Dunk radish in beurre blanc, dip in a bit of salt, and enjoy!

Happy spring!

– j

 All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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balsamic flat-iron steak & asparagus with brown butter

To me, one of the main heralds of spring is the smell of the grills fired up around the neighborhood.  There’s something about that smell that sets my mouth watering.  It may also explain why I’ve had an incurable craving for cheeseburgers.  On Sunday nights at our house, we tend to try to start the week off right with a nice meal and a bottle of wine.  Don’t get me wrong, cheeseburgers certainly fit the bill for the Sunday Night Special, but the choice in wine dictated something with a little more oomph, a little more complexity, but certainly something with beef.

Spring also means cleaning up the yard and prepping our garden for the plethora of veggies to come, so after a day of buzzing around outside, I was looking for something quick that would still accomplish the “special” aspect of our Sunday dinner.  Enter a quick marinade and flat-iron steak.  Flat-iron steak is a budget-conscious cut of beef from the shoulder that is uniform in thickness and rectangular shaped like an old-fashioned iron, hence the name.  Flank steak would be a good substitute in both cut and price if you are unable to find flat-iron.  To gussy it up a bit, I put together a quick marinade of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic.  The acid in the balsamic vinegar will start to break down the proteins during the marinade process and once on the grill, the heat will caramelize the sugars in the balsamic and garlic to create a nice crust on the steak, sealing in the juices.  Hungry yet?

We needed something equally special to go with our steak.  Enter spring asparagus.  Thin and tender, these emerald stalks begged for a little smokiness from the grill and a swim in decadent brown butter.  Even asparagus haters will have to think twice once tempted with this luxurious treatment.  Lightly steamed until tender and flash grilled, this quick side dish might just become a part of your regular rotation.  And the brown butter?  Now we’re talking, friends.

Making brown butter is as easy as turning on the stove.  As the butter melts, the milk solids separate and begin to caramelize over the gentle heat.  Don’t be tempted to try to rush it, as you’ll end up with burned butter – definitely not the same thing.  But, if you leave this alone for a few minutes over medium heat and give it a swirl every now and then, your patience will be rewarded with toasty liquid gold.  Just be sure to be a bit more mindful as the milk solids do start to caramelize, because once they start, they will go fast and you’ll be right back to the burned butter conundrum.  You can make this ahead too and once it has reached its desired color, take the butter off of the heat and set aside.  When you are ready to serve the asparagus, just warm the butter up again over low heat.

Now that you are certain to have drooled all over your keyboard, let’s get to the business of putting this together, shall we?  A quick recap: balsamic marinated flat-iron steak with a sweet-tangy balsamic reduction and tender grilled asparagus with brown butter.  Throw in that bottle of red wine we talked about earlier, and you have a perfect way to celebrate the close of a weekend and to start the week.  You are also guaranteed not to have any leftovers.

balsamic flat-iron steak & asparagus with brown butter

recipe:  adapted generously from the Seattle Times

1 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, divided

1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 tsp. salt, divided

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 flat-iron steak, about 1 1/4 lbs.

10 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 lb. thin asparagus

 

Combine 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, garlic, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a large glass dish.  Add flat-iron steak and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning steaks after 15 minutes. 

As steak is marinating, place remaining balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan over high heat.  Let balsamic reduce for 15 minutes or until thick and bubbly.  Set aside.  Place butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Swirl occasionally until butter has melted and has turned a deep caramel color, about 15 minutes.  Steam asparagus for 5-7 minutes or until tender.  Remove from heat and immediately plunge into an ice water bath to stop cooking.  Drain asparagus and place in a large dish.  Toss asparagus with olive oil, remaining salt and pepper.  Set aside.  

Heat grill to medium high heat.  Grill flat-iron steak about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare, keeping an eye on the steak for any flare ups.  Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.  As steak is resting, grill asparagus for about 3-4 minutes, rotating to ensure even grill marks on each side.  Return balsamic reduction and brown butter to low heat.  Slice flat-iron steak against the grain, drizzle with about 1 Tbsp. balsamic reduction.  Serve immediately with asparagus drizzled with about 1 Tbsp. browned butter.

 

Enjoy your own version of a special Sunday supper!

– j

All content and photographs © jb’s pour house

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