Monday, March 14, 2011

Beyond serendipity

Serendipity is when things happily come together--coincidentally and quite by accident.  I always experience a pleasant little jolt when that happens--a moment where the streaming video of your mind stops and you see the still photograph of what you will want to later remember.  It's like getting pinched in a playful way by the universe.  It's a reminder about all that is good about being human and sensate and the existential struggle.

This weekend, a good friend came to visit for a very pleasant, sunny afternoon and we sat on the patio in my back yard under oak trees just getting ready to bud, where the transition from winter to spring is evident in that expectant, bare and vulnerable way.  And besides really loving to talk with my friend for hours and hours, I really love to cook for her because she appreciates food.  And, also important, she has really great taste in wine and always gifts me with something lovely that begs to eventually be uncorked.

We began our journey into serendipity and beyond mid-afternoon.  And when ten o'clock arrived, we were still enjoying our last serendipitous moments before sheer tiredness took over.  And because one of us had to drive quite a little distance back home, I sadly let my friend leave me.  And, like most late nights after an evening of food, wine and wonderful conversation, I quietly cleaned up the kitchen, musing about what we'd said and laughed about, and thinking about how to share the food and wine experiences with all of you who were, hopefully, also having your own serendipitous adventures.

So here are the recipes and wine notes so that you can create your own photograph album of memories...

French Pearl Cocktail
     This cocktail is tart and refreshing--and NOT a mojito!

40-48 mint leaves
3 oz. fresh lime juice
3 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. Pernod
8 oz. Plymouth gin (or another gin with a high juniper and/or root ingredient content)
extra sprigs of mint, for garnish

1.  Bruise mint leaves in a martini pitcher. 
2.  Add remaining ingredients and blend well. 
3.  Fill four tall glasses with ice.
4.  Divide cocktail mixture among the glasses and garnish with mint sprigs.  Serves 4.

Margaret's Shrimp Dip

     A childhood friend of mine had an aunt who brought this simple appetizer to nearly every one of their family dinners.  It's an "old school" appetizer, served with Ritz or Club crackers... And if you really want to be old school, serve it alongside a bowl of pimento-stuffed olives.

8 oz. small frozen shrimp, thawed, drained and finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
3-4 Tbs. mayonnaise
Ritz crackers or Club crackers for serving

Mix all ingredients together and chill well.  Serve with crackers.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Of course, you can modify this recipe by adding freshly ground black pepper or Old Bay Seasoning to taste, or whatever you'd prefer...

Very Small and Very Sweet Yellow Tomatoes, Grape Tomatoes and Perlini with Herb Oil Dressing

1 cup small yellow tomatoes
1/2 cup red grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup perlini (tiny fresh mozzarella balls)
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint
1 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro
2-4 Tbs. EVOO
cracked black pepper and flake salt to taste

1.  Combine tomatoes, perlini and herbs. 
2.  Drizzle with EVOO--as much as you'd like.
3.  Stir in chopped herbs and season to taste with pepper and salt.
4.  Serve with cocktail toothpicks.  Makes about 2 cups.

And now for a note about the wine....One of my wine guys always asks me what I'm cooking and he has this telepathic way of helping me find just the right wine.  This time, the wine he picked for us was not only just right, it was sheer genius.  Sauvion Vouvray 2009 (Loire Valley, France) is fermented from a single grape varietal--Chenin Blanc.  This wine is, in a word, lovely.  Off dry and light, it opens with apple, pear, floral honey and a little ginger.  Lots of fruit in the nose with good mineral content and a crisp, acid finish.  And another great selling point?  Less than $10!  This Vouvray was the most perfect match for our main dish, Scallops with Emerald Thai Puree, and when we took a sip of the wine after our first bite of the scallops and puree, our eyes literally rolled back in our heads and--not just because our mouths were full--we were speechless.  Which for me, Dear Readers, is a severe hardship.

Scallops with Emerald Thai Puree

I thank Nigella Lawson for the inspiration for this dish, which is basically her recipe—tweaked.  You can serve the puree either warm or at room temperature.  Find Thai curry paste at a well-stocked international grocery store.

16 oz. frozen petites pois (baby peas)
2-3 Tbs. Thai green curry paste (such as Mae Ploy brand)
1/3 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
Salt to taste
¼ to 1/3 cup rich chicken stock
2 tsp. canola oil
2 tsp. butter
1 ½ lbs. sea scallops or bay scallops
Juice of one lime
1-2 Tbs. chopped fresh Thai basil or cilantro
Lime wedges for garnish

1,  Put the peas, 1 cup water and ½ tsp. salt into a covered saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stir and remove from heat.  Let sit for approximately 1 minute.
2.  Drain the peas and put them into a blender or food processor.  Add the curry paste and sour cream or crème fraiche along with a little salt.
3.  Blend the ingredients together and taste.  Drizzle in chicken stock and continue to blend until puree is the consistency of pancake batter.
4.  Taste puree again and correct for salt and for intensity of heat, adding more curry paste if you wish.  Set pea mixture aside.
5.  Heat oil and butter in medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering and foamy.
6.  Cook scallops in hot oil and butter, turning sea scallops once and stirring bay scallops from time to time, just until barely done (about 1 ½ minutes per side for sea scallops and less than 2 minutes total for bay scallops).
7.  Transfer scallops to warmed plate.  Deglaze the sauté pan by squeezing the fresh lime juice into pan and using a spatula, loosen any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.
8.  To serve, place puree on plate, scatter scallops over puree and garnish with chopped Thai basil or cilantro.  Serve with additional lime wedges, if desire.  Serves 4.

Note: Puree can be made up to 3 hours ahead and chilled.  Reheat gently, being careful not to boil, in microwave or on stovetop, adding extra chicken stock if necessary. 

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