scallops with butternut squash and snow peas

 Scallops with butternut squash puree and snow peas
 Scallops with butternut squash puree and snow peas

I try to use the word perfect carefully. It's an absolute and my absolutes most certainly won't match up with your absolutes. But when it comes to scallops, I will drop that word left and freaking right. They are perfect - a utopian food. I mean that so much so that I'd even capitalize, bold and italicize the word for emphasis. 

I wish I had some grand story to take you back to the first time I had them but truth be told, it wasn't love at first taste. Scallops are a scrupulous food. Pair them with the wrong ingredients and the whole dish flops. My first encounter with scallops was mehhh. I liked them fine, but it wasn't a divine experience by any means.

But over the years as I've taken it in my own hands to make them at home, I realized that scallops are goddess like. They need to stand on their own and every other ingredient paired with them has to in some way compliment and not take anything away otherwise you'll be sorry. 

Evidently I'm in a mythological mood but scallops do that to me. They really hold eminence over other food. They are on the expensive side and unquestionably not an every day food. But on those occasions when I make them, I appreciate every step of the cooking and eating process. 

For this dish, in order to not take anything nothing away from the scallops but compliment or even elevate them, I decided to go with a butternut squash puree and snow peas. The combination is euphoric! If you want to take this whole dish to an orgasmic level, I recommend pairing it with a Picpoul, Dry Riesling, Chablis or Sancerre. You are welcome! 

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  • Prep time: 10
  • Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
  • Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large butternut squash peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract 
  • 4 tbsp unsweetened cashew or almond milk
  • 1/2 salt plus additional for scallops
  • 1/4 tsp pepper plus additional for scallops
  • 4-6 scallops per person
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 lb snow peas 
  • 1/2 cup water

Equipment:

  • large baking sheet
  • large cast iron or non stick frying pan
  • parchment paper
  • medium sauce pan
  • food processor

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and spread cut squash into an even layer. Combine with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Mix well and roast for 25-30 minutes ensuring that you toss the squash from time to time. 

Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels (This step is important otherwise you'll end up with excess water in the pan). Season both sides pf the scallops with salt and pepper and set aside. 

Once butternut squash is fork tender, transfer to a food processor along with vanilla, almond or cashew milk and a pinch of salt and puree until creamy. 

Meanwhile, trim your snow peas and add them to sauce pan along with water. Steam for about 5 minutes, drain and return to pan along with 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and cover keep warm. 

Pre-heat cast iron pan over medium-high heat, add ghee and scallops and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, depending how well you like your scallops cooked. Near the end, add lemon juice and cook for another minute. 

To assemble, layer the snow peas, squash puree and scallops. You can top with micro greens if you want it extra pretty. 

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scallops with butternut squash and snow peas
Ingredients
  • 1 large butternut squash peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp unsweetened cashew or almond milk
  • 1/2 salt plus additional for scallops
  • 1/4 tsp pepper plus additional for scallops
  • 4-6 scallops per person
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 lb snow peas
  • 1/2 cup water
Instructions
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and spread cut squash into an even layer. Combine with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Mix well and roast for 25-30 minutes ensuring that you toss the squash from time to time. 2. Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels (This step is important otherwise you'll end up with excess water in the pan). Season both sides pf the scallops with salt and pepper and set aside. 3. Once butternut squash is fork tender, transfer to a food processor along with vanilla, almond or cashew milk and a pinch of salt and puree until creamy. 4. Meanwhile, trim your snow peas and add them to sauce pan along with water. Steam for about 5 minutes, drain and return to pan along with 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and cover keep warm. 5. Pre-heat cast iron pan over medium-high heat, add ghee and scallops and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, depending how well you like your scallops cooked. Near the end, add lemon juice and cook for another minute. 6. To assemble, layer the snow peas, squash puree and scallops. You can top with micro greens if you want it extra pretty.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4

tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa

 tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa
 tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa

Fresh blades of green popping up through the decaying remnant of last year's grass.  The rocky soil peppered with sticks hurt my feet. It didn't matter. Being barefoot outside is what I've been dreaming of for months. I felt acutely aware of every step, every stick, every soft blade as I made my way to the hammock. Concious of how unusual 84 degrees was in April, I wanted to take it all in. There was an appreciation and connection to the moment that I don't often experience with such intensity. 

Everything felt just a little bit simpler dangling suspended above the ground, face to the sun. A lawnmower hummed in the distance, mingled with lively sound of chirping birds. The rustling of budding branches swaying in the wind felt cleansing, restorative even. 

The wonderful thing about living in a place with seasons is getting to experience them to the fullest until ultimately wishing for the next one. Admittedly, I'm not a winter person. I don't much care for snow and limited daylight while being stuck inside feels emotionally crippling. But - but, it's transient, no matter how long it may seem in the moment. And the anticipation of steady warm weather had me thinking about spring and summer food. 

When I think of spring and summer food, inevitably fresh fruit comes to mind. Local peaches, blackberries etc. Those would make ideal companion for tuna cakes, which I had been itching to make. 

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Now tuna cakes are easy to throw together and even easier to eat. But I have to say, not all tuna is created equal. I prefer canned to fresh when making tuna cakes and a brand that truly makes me swoon is St. Jude Tuna. Besides the fact that it's the best canned tuna I've had, I appreciate the owner's passion for only using sustainably caught tuna that's dolphin free. I was immediately drawn to their philosophy and dedication. 

So aside from the several cans I've devoured on their own, I decided to make this simple recipe that's packed with flavor. Making tuna cakes is impossibly easy. I use almond flour, eggs, dill, lemon and their Mediterranean style tuna in olive oil. For a topping, I decided to stick to fresh flavors and make a blackberry peach salsa with red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro in a lemony dressing. I honestly flipped over the combination. The synergy between the ingredients is beautiful and a dish hasn't brought me this much joy in a long time. You'll be able to put dinner on the table in 20 minutes from start to finish. These tuna cakes will not disappoint!

 tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa
 tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa
 tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa
  • prep time: 10 minutes
  • cooking time: 8 minutes
  • makes: 6 tuna cakes

Ingredients: 

For tuna cakes

For blackberry peach salsa

  • 1 peeled organic peach (look for somewhat firm) chopped
  • 6 oz blackberries (one container) cut into 2 or 4 pieces
  • 1 tbsp very finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 organic red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Equipment: 

  • large cast iron frying pan
  • large mixing bowl
  • medium mixning bowl
  • whisk

Directions

In medium bowl, add lemon juice, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk well until the dressing is thick. Add peach pieces, pepper, onion and cilantro and stir well. Last, add the blackberries but gently toss them around. They will discolor the peaches a bit but don't stress, it's supposed to happen. Once all the ingredients are mixed well, cover the bowl and set aside. 

Combine all ingredients under tuna cakes in large bowl and form into 6 patties. Preheat frying pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil to pan and slowly add tuna cakes in one layer. 

Cook tuna cakes for 3-4 minutes per side until golden. 

Once tuna cakes are done, you can let them rest of a paper towel lined plate for a minute then serve with blackberry peach salsa. 

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tuna cakes with blackberry peach salsa
Ingredients
  • 2 6oz cans tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 2 tbsp almond flour
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill
  • 2 tsp lemon juice divided
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying
  • 1 peeled organic peach (look for somewhat firm) chopped
  • 6 oz blackberries (one container) cut into 2 or 4 pieces
  • 1 tbsp very finely chopped red onion
  • 1 organic red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
1. In medium bowl, add lemon juice, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk well until the dressing is thick. Add peach pieces, pepper, onion and cilantro and stir well. Last, add the blackberries but gently toss them around. They will discolor the peaches a bit but don't stress, it's supposed to happen. Once all the ingredients are mixed well, cover the bowl and set aside. 2. Combine all ingredients under tuna cakes in large bowl and form into 6 patties. Preheat frying pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil to pan and slowly add tuna cakes in one layer. 3. Cook tuna cakes for 3-4 minutes per side until golden. 4. Once tuna cakes are done, you can let them rest of a paper towel lined plate for a minute then serve with blackberry peach salsa.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 cakes

This post is sponsored by St. Jude Tuna.

moroccan cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots

 Moroccan cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots

I never really thought of cauliflower as a particularly interesting vegetable. Truth be told, aside from fermented cauliflower, I don't recall liking it much growing up. Despite numerous attempts, I just couldn't warm up to it. 

After moving to the US, my mom, unfamiliar with American cooking stuck to traditional dishes we often had back in Romania. One dish she would often make involved cauliflower. While I vehemently protested eating it, she would nonetheless make it, secretly hoping she could convert me. 

 Cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots

Despite my being convinced that I would never warm up to it, one day it just clicked for me. I think I like cauliflower. But I'm no purist. If you put a bowl of raw cauliflower in front of me, I won't be fighting you for it. I need a little something to make it sexy and appealing. 

Since I've started eating mostly paleo, couscous is no longer part of my regular diet but it used to be a staple in my cooking. A great alternative to traditional couscous is cauliflower couscous. I didn't believe it for myself until I started playing around with it. I make my cauliflower couscous with loads of spices, dried apricots and cherries and top with slivered almonds. Traditionally, moroccan couscous involves raisins but I decided to use dry cherries instead as it ads a tangy flavor that balances out the apricots quite well. 

You can find cauliflower that's been finely chopped in most grocery stores. But if you want to make your own, I have a very simple tutorial that lets you get it to the size you want. 

 Cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots
 Cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots
 Cherries and greens
 Slivered almonds and greens
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Total cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Makes 2-4 servings

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups cauliflower rice
  • 1/2 cup low sodium broth of your choice
  • 1/2 sweet onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander 
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tbsp chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tbsp dried cherries (alternatively use golden raisins)
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper

Equipment

  • large cast iron frying pan or large frying pan of your choice

Directions: 

Heat frying pan over medium heat. Add olive oil onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes until translucent.

Add cauliflower rice and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add spices, salt, pepper, apricots, cherries and broth and cook for another 5 minutes until liquid has been absorbed. Top cauliflower couscous with slivered almonds and mix well. 

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moroccan cauliflower couscous with cherries and apricots
Ingredients
  • 2 cups cauliflower rice
  • 1/2 cup low sodium broth of your choice
  • 1/2 sweet onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tbsp chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tbsp dried cherries (alternatively use golden raisins)
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
Instructions
1. Heat frying pan over medium heat. Add olive oil onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes until translucent.2. Add cauliflower rice and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add spices, salt, pepper, apricots, cherries and broth and cook for another 5 minutes until liquid has been absorbed. Top with slivered almonds and mix well.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2-4

paleo cardamom carrot muffins

 paleo cardamom carrot muffins 
 paleo cardamom carrot muffins

I’m often astounded at how much there is to learn about cooking and how I’ve only just begun scratching the surface. So many ingredients to explore and numerous spices still yet to be tasted. Admittedly it’s a slow process. But cooking with new ingredients always feels humbling. Not everything will turn out but the exploration and process is where the fun and frustration lie.

It took me some time to come around to cardamom. If you've not ventured in to the cardamom world yet, I highly recommend you do. Before I started getting fairly serious about cooking, I had no idea what it was about. It sounded intimidating and certainly not a spice I thought I'd be using in my cooking. 

 paleo cardamom carrot muffins 

Well I was wrong. Cardamom is a surprisingly versatile spice and works in sweet and savory dishes. Its smell and taste sets it apart in the spice world. My first attempt at playing around with cardamom was curry – an obvious one. I was shocked at just how distinct and flavorful the sauce was. It was one of those: “why didn’t I know about this sooner?” moments.

Since then I experimented with it a handful of times and was burning to use it in a new recipe. With a surplus of almond and coconut flours I decided maybe some baking would be in order. 

I rummaged through the cabinets and fridge in hopes that something would inspire me. While tearing things out and shoving them back in, I caught a glimpse of a carrot so I it dawned one me - cardamom carrot muffins. Everyone loves muffins, so why not? They're perfect as a breakfast food or snack. I figured carrots would keep the batter nice and moist and add some texture as well. Plus, vegetables in baked goods are always a good idea.

It worked beautifully with the cardamom and while I was at it, decided some raisins may work well too. So that's how cardamom carrot muffins were born and quickly became a favorite treat. 

Chances are, if you're following a gluten free/paleo lifestyle you likely have all these ingredients already on hand. Coconut and almond flour are absolute staples in my house and I always have them in my pantry

 paleo cardamom carrot muffins
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Total cooking time: 25 minutes
  • Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 5 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 4 organic eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup organic shredded carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp organic raisins

Equipment: 

  • large mixing bowl
  • spatula
  • muffin tin
  • muffin tin lineres

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. You can use a whisk but I found that just using a spatula and mixing everything well is enough. 

Line muffin tin with liners and pour in batter. Bake for 25 minutes.

Let cardamom carrot muffins cool completely before serving. They taste even better the next day!

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paleo cardamom carrot muffins
Ingredients
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 5 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 4 organic eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup organic shredded carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp organic raisins
Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2. Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. You can use a whisk but I found that just using a spatula and mixing everything well is enough. 3. Line muffin tin with liners and pour in batter. Bake for 25 minutes.4. Let cardamom carrot muffins cool completely before serving. They taste even better the next day!
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12

chorizo and little neck clams in red pepper broth

 chorizo and little neck clams in red pepper broth
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It was early. A strip of red visible on the horizon. I made my way out the door with anything I could throw on. I didn’t want to miss it. Out of breath and still trying to shake off the nights’ sleep, the ground beneath shifted from pavement to a soft crunching. Transfixed, I stood watching the subtle shift in clouds as they gave way to the morning sun. There’s nothing like a beach sunrise. A winter beach sunrise to be exact. 

I did a 360 sweep and noticed I was the only one on the beach. I sat in the sand oblivious to the cold, lost in the rhythmic lapping of waves. The beauty of this place bewitches me, leaves me tormented and euphoric every time. I wanted to take it in as much as I could in the short time available. 

Emotions flowed though me ranging from elation to melancholy, knowing that in just a few short hours, I’ll have nothing more than videos and photos of this place. I tried shaking off the woeful feeling and started walking. Naturally the thing that comes up most in my repertoire of thoughts, is food. Last night’s food. In particular the chorizo and little neck clams appetizer that left me wanting more. It was one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

 Chorizo with little neck clams and pepper broth

One of the obsessive things I do when going out to eat is try and figure out how the chef made a certain dish. What’s the key ingredient? What makes it stand out? I decided to seek validation…I wanted to know; was it dry basil? When the waitress returned nodding cheerfully, I nearly exploded with excitement. Perhaps it was the two glasses of wine that made me chattier than normal, but I had an entire discussion with her about basil. My husband half embarrassed, took advantage of my being deep in conversation to polish off the last of the chorizo and little neck clams. 

So there I was, frozen on the beach and hardly realizing it, about a mile from the hotel, thinking about chorizo with little neck clams. The only good thing about leaving would be getting to recipe test this thing at home. I was excited about its simplicity and rich taste.

I was amazed at just how effortless this recipe is. The chorizo is already cooked and in roughly 15-20 minutes you'll have a perfect appetizer. If you want to make a meal out of it, serve it over zucchini or rice noodles. 

 chorizo and little neck clams in red pepper broth
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Total cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Serves 4

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 link organic cured chorizo cut into small pieces
  • 50 little little neck clams 
  • 1 medium sweet onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 organic red bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely mined 
  • 3/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh Italian parsley 
  • 1 cup dry white wine or 1 cup broth if whole 30

Equipment: 

  • dutch oven or soup pot

Directions: 

Preheat dutch oven. Add olive oil, onion, red pepper and salt and cook on medium heat for 8 minutes until onion is slightly caramelized and pepper is soft. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. 

Next, add dried basil, chorizo and and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to high and add clams. Cover and cook on high heat for 7-8 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time. Once cooked, discard any clams that haven't opened. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately. Pairs very well with an Albarino. 

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chorizo and little neck clams in red pepper broth
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 link organic cured chorizo cut into small pieces
  • 50 little little neck clams
  • 1 medium sweet onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 organic red bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely mined
  • 3/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine or 1 cup broth if whole 30
Instructions
1. Preheat dutch oven. Add olive oil, onion, red pepper and salt and cook on medium heat for 8 minutes until onion is slightly caramelized and pepper is soft. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. 2. Next, add dried basil, chorizo and and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to high and add clams. Cover and cook on high heat for 7-8 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time. Once cooked, discard any clams that haven't opened. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately. Pairs very well with an Albarino.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4