Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pork and Beans: A Childhood Favorite Gets an Upgrade

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to eat was hot dogs and beans. I was really happy when I saw my mother opening a can of Campbell's Pork and Beans, cutting up an Oscar Meyer hot dog and cooking them together until they were pipping hot. Yum.

When I was hungry and no one was home, I'd make a hot dog and beans sandwich with buttered bread. Hot or cold didn't matter, the beans were delicious either way.

But like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I hadn't eaten hot dogs and beans since I was a kid. Last week I happened to be in the supermarket shopping for a Memorial Day dinner. I saw that Bush's Baked Beans were on sale.

If you haven't had Bush's, you're in for a treat. These are the best canned baked beans ever. Since I was making spareribs, the idea of baked beans seemed a good fit. But while I had fond memories about pork and beans, I wasn't going to use hot dogs. My adult taste buds needed ingredients with a lot more flavor.

Bush's Baked Beans with Italian Sausages

Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes


1 28 ounce can Bush's Baked Beans
2 Italian sausages (mild or hot)
1 small onion (peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Freshly ground pepper


Grill the sausages until brown on all sides. Let cool, then slice into 1/4" rounds. Sauté the onions, garlic, and parsley with olive oil in a small pot until lightly browned. Season with pepper. Add the sausage rounds and baked beans. Stir frequently and simmer for 15 minutes.


Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top.

Add red peppers.

Add spinach to the sauté.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

At the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

Today was one of those picture perfect moments in Southern California. After days of overcast skies and the threat of rain, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was a deep blue. A few women had on tank tops and some men were wearing cargo-shorts, but there was enough of a cool breeze that light sweatshirts were still the order of the day.

Last week the Santa Monica Farmers' Market was uncrowded--maybe people were out of town in advance of Memorial Day--but today was another story. Getting close to the farmers' tables took a lot a patience and excuse-me's.

Flowers were everywhere and as Russ Parsons described in today's Los Angeles Times, early season cherries made an appearance--Rainiers, Burlats, Black Tartarians, Queen Annes, and Brooks.

The best news was the return of the pluot. Besides the Ha Farm's Mountain Grown Fuji Apples, Scott Farm's pluots and plums (which come later in the season) are my favorite fruits. There were nectarines and peaches but they looked too green and didn't have the fullness that comes from long days of summer heat.

Jimmy Williams of Hay Ground Organic Gardening was selling potted herbs and vegetables. Amazingly he grows all of his high-quality plants in the backyard of his Hollywood home. In the past I had been tempted to buy his plants but never did because our backyard was too heavily shaded. Happily our next-door neighbor is renovating her house and she's thinned out the giant bamboo that had doomed our garden to perpetual shade. To celebrate our backyard's return to full-sun, I picked up an Italian parsley and three tomato plants: Green Zebra, Sweet Olive, and Cherokee Purple.

Walking through the market today made me very happy. Compared to the waxy displays in the supermarket produce section, the farmers' market feels alive with displays of freshly cut flowers, mounds of cherries, arugula, corn, squash, onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, carrots, beets, bok choy, spinach, lemons, oranges, apples, apricots, cantaloupe, Lily's eggs, Rockenwagner's baked goods, Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish....the list goes on and on.

Because Michelle is out of town, I didn't need much, just the pluots, a bunch of scallions, parsley, and arugula for Michael's salads. The cherries looked so beautiful I couldn't resist buying a pound. I could happily have eaten them straight out of the bag, but friends were coming for dinner and with a little extra effort the cherries would turn into an easy-to-make dessert. I ate one handful and consigned the rest to the oven.

Baked Cherries
Yield 4-6 Servings
Time 45 Minutes

1 pound cherries
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pit the cherries and put the halves on a Silpat sheet on a roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle the cherries with raw sugar. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Cherry nectar will have accumulated inside each cherry, accented by the raw sugar's caramel flavor.

Dust with raw sugar and serve with yogurt, ice cream, or mixed with other fruits like mango or cantaloupe.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Corn Goes from Grill to Salad Bowl

When the weather warms up, I happily trade the stove for the barbecue. What a pleasure to be cooking outdoors. The heat blasting off the grill. The trees and sky overhead. I just love it.

We grill a lot of vegetables. Corn is one of our favorites. Besides enjoying corn on the cob, with very little effort the grilled corn makes a terrific salad.

Grilled Corn
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

4 ears of corn, silks and husks removed, washed
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Drizzle the corn with olive oil, then season with sea salt and pepper. Put on the hot grill. Turn frequently with tongs to avoid burning. Charing adds to the flavor, but just a little bit. Serve hot off the grill by itself or as a side dish.

Grilled Corn Salad
Yield 4 servings
Time 10 minutes

4 ears of corn, grilled
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends removed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use a sharp knife to remove the kernels. In a bowl mix together the corn, parsley, and scallion. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and serve at room temperature.


Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add sautéed onions and garlic, lightly browned in olive oil.

Add bell peppers, red, yellow, or green--raw is good; if grilled, remove the skins--chopped the same size as the corn kernels.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day is a Perfect Time to Make Beet Salad & Potato Salad

The summer season of travel, picnics, and barbecues traditionally begins on Memorial Day. Given the high price of gas, there may be less travel and more eating close to home this year. With good weather comes spontaneity. The kids are home or friends stop by, nothing is easier than turning on the barbecue and grilling some hamburgers, sausages, chicken, or a nice steak. Pull together a couple of easy-to-make salads and the meal is complete.

I've already talked about egg salad with bacon and shrimp, carrot salad, spinach salad, and arugula salad. I want to add to those favorites two more: beet salad and potato salad.

Roasted Beet Salad
Serves 4
Time 1 hour

The beets my mom served when I was a kid were either boiled or canned. For some reason she never roasted beets. That's such a simple way to prepare them. They steam inside their skins. Because they take very little effort to prepare, they are a great addition to a meal when you feel pressed for time.

1 bunch of large beets
Olive oil

Cut off the leaves and stems, reserving them to use later (a quick side note: after you wash them, if you chop up the leaves and stems, sauté them with olive oil, garlic and shallots; they'll caramelize and you can serve them as a side dish or tossed with pasta; they're delicious). Thoroughly wash the beets to get rid of any grit. Do not remove the skin or cut off the root. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking pan. Place the beets in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn the beets every 20 minutes so they cook evenly. Use a wooden skewer to test if they're done.

Let cool, then peel off the skins, cut off the root and the top part. Serve them up the way you like--julienne, rounds, or roughly cut--put them in a bowl and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.


Use a vinagrette dressing, add feta, sliced scallions, and chopped Italian parsley.

Top with roasted walnuts.

Add roasted carrots.

Add green grapes sliced in half.

Potato Salad
Serves 4-6
Time 45 minutes

As a side dish potato salad goes with any grilled meat or fish, perfect for a dinner party or a picnic.

2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold or King Edward), washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1 tablespoon corn kernels
1 scallion, end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Best Foods/Hellman's)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Put the potatoes in a pot, fill with water to cover, add the Kosher salt, cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil, and boil on high heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the hot water, refill the pot with cold water and let the potatoes cool.

Sauté the corn with a little olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool. In a large bowl, mix together the corn, carrots, scallion, and parsley. Peel the skin off the potatoes--save the skin for a breakfast sauté with eggs--chop the potatoes into dime-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well. Taste and adjust the flavors with more mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.


Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add celery or capers.

Add crispy bacon.

Add grilled shrimp.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wilted Spinach Salad Takes Center Stage

Everyone has an all-purpose dish that can be modified in clever ways by changing a few key ingredients. For my mother, it was the casserole. For me it’s usually pasta but on those nights when my wife wants to “go green” I turn to an old stand-by: a wilted spinach salad.

Versatile spinach works cold in a salad or heated by sautéing or boiling. A hot dressing brings spinach to a middle ground: mostly raw with some leaves wilted from the heat of the dressing. Sautéing the dressing allows for a great variety of ingredients: Italian sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, shrimp, bacon, chicken, duck, chicken livers, or purely vegetarian. As far as I can tell just about any pizza topping would work on a wilted spinach salad, excepting maybe pineapple.

I invite everyone to send in suggestions. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this infinitely variable dish.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Avocado, and Olives
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes


1 large bunch spinach, the root ends trimmed and discarded, thoroughly washed to remove the grit
2 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
6 mushrooms (brown or shiitake), washed, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into rounds 1/4" thick
2 shallots, peeled, cut into thin rounds
12 shrimp, medium sized, washed, deveined, sliced in half (optional)
12 olives (oil cured black, green split, or Castelvetrano green), pitted, quartered
1 small avocado, peeled, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons feta, crumbled (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Remove the stems from the spinach. Put the leaves into a large salad bowl. Finely chop the stems. To make the hot dressing put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a sauté pan on a medium flame and lightly brown the spinach stems, garlic, bacon, mushrooms, carrot rounds, and shallots. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small sauce pan reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. In a separate sauté pan drizzled with olive oil, cook the shrimps until pink about 2 minutes, then set aside.

When you’re just about to serve the salad, reheat the dressing on a medium flame. Add the rest of the olive oil, olives, and avocado.

Using a rubber spatula pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar. Top with the shrimp, croutons and if you want the feta. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.


The hot dressing can be kept vegetarian by using olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Most vegetables can be added to the sauté: zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, English peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, or tomatoes. Try tofu or vegetarian patties as well.

A riff on a chef salad, in the dressing sauté baked ham and turkey breast with shallots; add cheese (cheddar or Swiss) and chopped tomatoes when you toss the salad.

Borrowing from the classic frisee salad, use bacon or lardoons crisped in the sauté, topping the salad with a fried egg. A variation on a variation: instead of a fried egg, use a hard boiled egg, sliced or chopped.

Sauté 1/4" rounds of Italian sausage with slices of red pepper, onion, and garlic to make a wilted salad version of a sausage hero.

Grilled or sautéed chicken livers with mushrooms, onions, and lots of garlic.

Add several anchovies and a dusting of pepper flakes to the onion-garlic sauté.

For the meat use slices of roast duck or chicken (dark meat preferably since it has more flavor); put shiitake mushrooms in the sauté.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carrot Salad Makes a Great Sidekick

What comes with an entrée may be more flavorful than the entrée itself. Grilled chicken breast is a case in point: it's ok, healthy but flavor-wise, nothing special. Put a side of homemade carrot salad on the plate and everything changes. The addition of the creamy, spicy carrot salad compliments the neutral flavor of the breast. I'm in heaven.

The key to that sentiment is "homemade". Carrot salad bought from upscale Gelson's or even Nate n'Al's just won't do. I've taken the classic deli recipe and given it a couple of flavor enhancers: a pinch of cayenne and golden raisins soaked in lemon juice. With those added flavors, the salad can hold its own with an infinite variety of dishes: grilled chicken, steak, hamburger, pork chops, lamb chops, duck, even an avocado for a vegetarian meal.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

8 large carrots (preferably farmers' market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions. Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.


Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley
Add capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Serves 6-8 (makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's A New Kid in Town: Eat Drink or Die

A new food web site launched this week: Eat Drink or Die. A sibling of Will Ferrell's Funny or Die, Eat Drink or Die is a full-service food site, with videos by famous chefs, experts in their field, and readers who have a favorite recipe they want to share.

In addition there are a score of bloggers who pursue their own special point of view. I am happy to say that Men Who Like to Cook is included with others who are passionate about eating and cooking.

Please take a look. I think you'll enjoy the site.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Summertime Breakfast

When it's cold, a hot meal, with a generous portion of protein and carbos is the perfect breakfast to get me going in the morning. Fried eggs, hash browns, toast with butter and jam, a couple of slices of bacon, and a cup of coffee. Pancakes with sausages, scrambled eggs, and lots of hot maple syrup is good too. Or, an omelet with cheddar cheese, sautéed chicken livers, caramelized onions and mushrooms. They're all delicious.

But once again in LA the temperature is pushing into the 90s. When that happens, my "perfect" cold weather breakfast leaves me feeling sluggish.

With the heat, I need to switch gears and have something lighter in the morning: a toasted bagel, a croissant, a bowl of cereal, granola with fruit, yogurt, a fresh fruit salad, or as our older son Frank prefers, a fruit smoothie with protein powder. There are plenty of choices.

I want to recommend my new favorite warm-weather breakfast. It may sounds austere but it has so many flavors and textures, it's a great way to start the day. Please write in with your favorite breakfast so we can compare notes.

Apple, Bacon, and Cheese Breakfast

1 large Fuji apple, peeled, cored (preferably farmers market fresh)
4 slices of bacon, crisp
4 ounces of cheese

My son Michael prefers his apples unpeeled. I agree that there are valuable vitamins and minerals in the skin. In this, Michael and my mom had the same opinion, but I prefer the clean taste of a peeled apple. The bacon needs to be very crisp and well-drained. For a semi-soft cheese, I like Jarlsberg, Irish cheddar, or Comte. If you prefer a soft cheese like Brie, Saint André, or chèvre, you can spread the cheese on the apple or a piece of toast. Proscuitto is a good alternative for the bacon.

Serves 1. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Corn is Back It Must Be Summer

Living in Southern California, we're frequently accused of being citizens of LALA land, a region of delusions where the inhabitants have lost touch with nature because there are no seasons. But there are seasons. Our winters are cold. Those of us with fireplaces use them frequently from January through March. And yet we have to admit, we don't suffer the ravages of weather that afflict other parts of the country.

If T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, we Angelinos keep track of the seasons by watching the ebb and flow of the produce in the farmers' markets. We know summer is over because the peaches and nectarines are gone. Conversely, when the first corn appears at the farmers' markets, we know that winter is definitely over.

Several weeks ago a few pieces of corn were for sale at the Palisades Sunday market. Then yesterday at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, a giant mound of corn materialized at Gloria's Fruits & Vegetables stand. Seeing so much corn a dozen recipes came to mind, but the best way to celebrate the return of corn is the simplest: corn on the cob with a slab of butter, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. One taste and we know for certain that summer's back.

Corn on the Cob

4 ears of corn, shucked, washed
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Sea salt and pepper

Leave the cob whole or break in half, put into a large pot of water, and turn the burner on high. When the water boils in 10-15 minutes, the corn is done. Drain and serve with butter, sea salt, and pepper.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Ten Minute Meal: Chicken Tenders with Mustard Sauce

A friend emailed that she wanted an easy-to-make dinner for her kids. Nothing fancy, difficult or time consuming. I suggested chicken tenders. Kids know them because they're served at most fast food restaurants where they are 'healthier' than some of the alternatives but all too often they taste like cardboard. When you make them at home, they can be both healthy and good tasting.

The difference is the breading. Traditional breading uses milk and flour (batter) which bulks up the chicken. Using seasoned olive oil and breadcrumbs creates a lighter, crunchier tender with fewer calories. The mustard sauce adds several layers of flavor with very little effort. Just so you know, after our friend ate the tenders with her kids, she proclaimed them good enough to serve to adults.

Mustard Sauce

Make the sauce first because once the tenders are cooked, you'll want to serve them immediately. The sauce can be prepared ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon mustard (use any kind you like)
1 teaspoon sweet butter
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan on a low simmer until reduced by half. Serve warm.

Lo-Cal Chicken Tenders

Chicken tenders can be purchased from the supermarket although they're pricey. If you have a couple of minutes, buy the full breasts at half the price and cut them into the 'tender' shape of about 1/2" wide, 1/4" thick, and 2" long.

1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, washed, pat dried
1 cup bread crumbs, unflavored, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Pour the olive oil onto one plate and season with sea salt and pepper. For color, mix the parsley together with the breadcrumbs, if your kids will eat 'green things'. Spread the bread crumbs on a second plate. Dredge each chicken tender through the seasoned olive oil, then through the bread crumbs and coat well. Sauté the tenders on a medium flame with olive oil until browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes on each side.

Serve with a salad or a cooked green like broccoli or spinach and the warm mustard sauce on the side. For adults garnish with the mustard sauce and thinly sliced scallions.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on Bitten. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How Do I Love Thee, Egg Salad, Let Me Count the Ways

If you like eggs, you probably love egg salad not only because it tastes so good but because it evokes Proust-like memories of childhood, family picnics, and happy times. On Bitten I have a post about the egg salad my mother used to make and how I made it my own: Fancy Egg Salad A Mother Would Love.

Please take a look at the posting. The Comments are worth reading because they make the point that the creaminess of egg salad provides an opportunity to add a great variety of spices and herbs from every corner of the planet: capers, parsley, cilantro, olives, cumin, chutney, dill, lemon zest, pimento, tarragon, anchovies, smoked salmon, white truffle oil, sun dried tomatoes....

For dinner parties I like to serve an upscale egg salad- appetizer made with grilled shrimp.

Egg Salad With Chopped Grilled Shrimp

If you don't have a grill, the shrimp can be roasted in the oven.

4 eggs, farmers' market fresh
2 shrimp, medium sized, washed, shelled, deveined
1 tablespoon Italian parsley finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 large shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 slice of bacon, crisp, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Season the shrimp with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Either grill or roast the shrimp in a 400 degree oven. In either case the shrimp will cook in 2-3 minutes. Remove, let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.

Cover the eggs with water in a saucepan and gently boil for 30 minutes. That may be longer than you're used to but cooking the eggs at a lower temperature makes the yolks moist and flaky. Let the eggs cool, then peel and chop them using a food processor or by hand with a knife. Mix together the shrimp, eggs, parsley, capers, shallot, bacon, and mayonnaise. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the egg salad with bread, crackers (especially Saltines), or hearts of romaine.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Bivalves

Farmers’ markets aren’t only for produce. Flowers, eggs, cheese, milk, poultry, and fish are available as well. And for the past several months at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Carlsbad Aquafarms has been selling live shellfish: mussels, oysters, clams, abalone, and scallops.

The mussels, oysters, and clams sit in ice-filled tubs while the abalone and scallops come to market in thick plastic bags filled with a mix of sea water and oxygen. Since Carlsbad Aquafarm arrived at the market, I've become a regular customer. This week Robb, who is a chef as well as one of the proprietors of the aquafarm, gave me a dozen Catalina Oysters and a bag of the Calico Scallops to try. I've had the oysters before but the scallops...that was something else. I hadn't prepared a scallop that was alive and still in its shell.

Scallops on a Bacon-Spinach Sauté

Dealing with live scallops for the first time I needed to do research, which meant turning to the internet. What we know as the "scallop" is in fact the adductor muscle that holds the two shells together. Surrounding the muscle in both the male and female scallop is the roe. Although I enjoy roe, most people find the flavor gamy. A sharp paring knife easily removes the thin membrane that secures the roe to the muscle.

Carlsbad Aquafarm doesn't raise the over-sized scallops served in Chinese restaurants. Their Calico scallops are petite. To be appreciated these sweet morsels need to be surrounded with contrasting flavors and textures. Although the scallops take a bit of work and are pricey, I made them for Michelle as an appetizer and they were delicious, truly special.

6 scallops
1 cup spinach, washed, dried, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Wash the scallops and put on a hot grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. As they open they'll release their juices. Capture as much of the liquid as you can. Let cool, then twist off one of the shells and discard. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the scallop from the shell and carefully cut off the membrane and roe. Put the scallop back in its shell, add a pat of butter, and put them into a small frying pan on a low flame. Cook the scallops for 5 minutes in the butter, then set aside. In a frying pan drizzle olive oil, add the scallop liquid, and sauté the bacon, garlic, shallots, and spinach until lightly browned. The sauté will be crispy and sweet, the perfect contrast for the delicate scallops.

Put the sauté on the bottom of the shell and on top of the scallop. The scallops should be eaten warm. Use a cocktail fork or eat them off the shell. I much prefer the latter. That way you won't miss any of the sauté and the scallop's sweet juices.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Oysters Breaded with Bacon and Parsley

I ate some of the oysters raw on the half shell with a bit of lemon juice and cocktail sauce. Delicious. For the rest I wanted to have them breaded. I've talked about that before. This time I wanted to make a small adjustment to the breading by adding crisp bacon. The bacon added a layer of flavor and upped the crunch-factor.

Shuck the oysters, reserving their nectar to use in an oyster stew. The oysters can be served either on lettuce with avocado slices or on a baguette with homemade tartar sauce.

12 oysters, shucked
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably homemade, unseasoned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 slices crisp bacon
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and bacon in a small food mill, pulse until thoroughly combined, and put on a plate. Drizzle olive oil on a second plate and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Over a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge each oyster first through the seasoned olive oil, then through the bread crumbs to coat. Sauté the oysters until lightly browned. Serve warm with tartar sauce either on a baguette or on lettuce with avocado.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

If you want to try Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish, they're at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesdays. They have been going to some of the other local farmers' markets as well. If you send them an email, they'll let you know their schedule: