Port St. Joe Scallops

When I lived in Panama City, Florida, I used to go snorkeling in the bay for scallops. Since moving away from the beach, I had not been scalloping again until this past summer when Jill, Jill’s sister, and I met up with my parents in Port St. Joe for a day of snorkeling and scalloping.

Searching for scallops
Me searching for scallops

After snorkeling around at a couple of different sites without finding scallops, we finally reached a part of the bay full of them. We swam, collected scallops, and generally had a great time. Back at home, I shelled and cleaned the scallops.

Bag of scallops
Jenna with a bag of scallops

Wanting to share the bounty of scallops, I invited several friends over for a scallop dinner. The menu included scallops, steak, crispy bread, and a warm spinach salad.

For the bread, I sliced a multigrain baguette lengthwise, drizzled the slices with olive oil, and topped the slices with salt, pepper, garlic, dried basil, and dried oregano. I then baked the slices at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

I marinated the steak in a mixture of bourbon, soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. After marinating, I cooked the steak in a skillet to medium doneness.

In another skillet, I cooked several slices of bacon until crispy, reserving the bacon. I scored the scallops with a sharp knife and sprinkled the scallops with a little salt, pepper, and Chinese five spice power. I then cooked the scallops in the bacon grease until slightly firm.

For the spinach salad, I heated up a drizzle of olive oil and tossed in several handfuls of spinach, turning until slightly wilted. After seasoning lightly with salt and pepper, I removed the spinach, added crumbled bacon, and mixed in some soledad almonds.

Scallop dinner
Scallop dinner

As much I can, I like to have a connection between the food I eat and the place my food is grown or caught. Swimming in the ocean and catching deliciously sweet bay scallops by hand provides a deep connection to the food. With a meal that balanced land and sea with the crunch of crispy bread and the softness of the warm spinach salad,  I am anxiously waiting for scallop season to open up again.

Tacos de Camarones

I was really in the mood for shrimp tacos for dinner the other night. Jill said she didn’t care what we had for dinner as long as it included “lots of vegetables.” So, I made shrimp tacos with a lot of vegetables.

To make the shrimp tacos, or  Tacos de Camarones, extra-veggieful, I quartered mushrooms, chopped some garlic, and sliced up an orange bell pepper and a small onion.

Prepared vegetables for the taco filling
Prepared vegetables for the taco filling

To give the vegetables a fajita flare, I sautéed them in a little olive oil until they started to caramelize.

Saute the vegetable filling
Saute the vegetable filling

While the vegetables were sautéing, I also sautéed the shrimp in a very small amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan.

Saute shrimp in a small amount of olive oil
Saute shrimp in a small amount of olive oil

As soon as the shrimp started to turn pink, I poured in a couple of glugs of beer into the pan and simmered the shrimp until they were completely cooked. I had a bottle of Sam Adams Coastal Wheat and thought it sounded like an appropriate pairing for shrimp, so I used that.

Simmer the shrimp in beer
Simmer the shrimp in beer

Placing two or three shrimp (depending on their size) on small corn tortillas, I topped the shrimp tacos with the vegetables. Because of the heartiness of the mushrooms, the two or three shrimp were enough to make the taco satisfying. You could always add more shrimp, but this recipe for shrimp tacos is a great way to save money and make a great dinner with only a small amount of shrimp.

Put the filling on a corn tortilla
Put the filling on a corn tortilla

To add even more vegetables to the dinner, I chopped up some spinach and sliced up and avocado (Jill’s family grows avocados). I topped the shrimp tacos with the spinach and avocado as well as with some shredded cheddar, salsa, and sour cream. The sweetness of the onions and bell pepper and the meatiness of the mushrooms supplemented the shrimp well. Because we only used a few shrimp in this recipe, we actually made this for dinner two nights in a row.

Add your favorite toppings
Add your favorite toppings

A Birthday Cupcake Tasting

Every year I typically try to do something fun for Jill’s birthday. It usually involves a small party with multiple variations on a type of food. One year I made three types of pizza from scratch, one year I made three different types of brownies, and one year I made four types of macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, due to schedule conflicts, we did not have a party last year. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass un-celebrated this year, we decided to pick the tradition back up. This year Jill requested a cupcake tasting.

We ordered three 20 inch pizzas from Decent Pizza: a cheese pizza, a pizza with Bradley’s Sausage (a locally made sausage) and fresh mushrooms, and a pizza with eggplant and spinach. The pizza was served, of course, with a selection of Cupcake Vineyard wines, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

Decent Pizza makes delicious pizza

I made a spinach and blueberry salad with the most delicious spinach (grown in my parents garden), organic blueberries from New Leaf Market, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. My parents always grow this amazing, hearty, dark green spinach; it makes the spinach from the grocery store seem flat and tasteless.

A spinach salad
Garden fresh spinach, organic blueberries, and parmesan

Following the pizza and salad came the cupcakes. I made a selection of regular-sized and mini cupcakes in four flavors. The wildflower honey cupcakes were made with honey from the bees Jillian’s family used to keep to pollinate the orange groves. Sunflower seed butter cupcakes were a more subtly flavored spin on peanut butter cupcakes. Chai tea cupcakes were a boldly spiced cupcake to contrast the more delicately flavored wildflower honey and sunflower butter cupcakes. The red velvet cupcakes, a cupcake standard, were made with natural red food coloring made from beet and hibiscus extract. The natural food coloring did not give the cupcakes the same intensely red color traditional red velvet cupcakes have, but they tasted great. While we liked each of the cupcakes, Jill and I both agreed that the sunflower butter cupcakes were our favorite.

Happy Birthday, Jill!

Assortment of cupcakes
An assortment of cupcakes

Healthier Spinach Dip

In the spirit of the New Year and healthy resolutions all around, I wanted to start the year out with a healthier take on one of my favorite snacks.  I love spinach dip, but it is typically prepared with mayonnaise which is full of fat (plus I’m not really a fan of mayonnaise).  When I was in college, I lightened up spinach dip with a secret ingredient or two and some extra veggies.  This dish was often requested by my friends.

Healthier Spinach Dip

10 ounce package of frozen, chopped spinach

1 cup 2% small curd cottage cheese (secret ingredient #1)

8 ounces Greek yogurt (secret ingredient #2)

8 ounces sour cream

package of spinach dip mix

red bell pepper, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

pita chips, carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and pepper strips, for serving

bread round, for serving (optional)

Defrost spinach according to package directions.  Allow spinach to cool and squeeze dry.  Place defrosted, drained spinach in a medium bowl.  Add the cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, and spinach dip mix.  Use a fork to combine.  Add the diced veggies and mix to combine.  Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.  Serve in a large glass bowl or a hollowed out bread round with pita chips and carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and pepper strips.

This is a quick and easy recipe that has all the creaminess of mayonnaise-based spinach dip but without all the fat.  The cottage cheese is full of protein and the dip gets a great tanginess from the combination of Greek yogurt and sour cream.  The extra veggies give the dip a healthy crunch and a dose of vitamins.  I confess that the spinach dip mix packet is a total shortcut and I could probably cut down on the salt and improve the flavor of this recipe by adding my own combination of spices, but this is still a quick and tasty party favorite.

Happy New Year!

Another Delicious Mafaldine Recipe

Like any good dinner, this one began with me putting on an episode of one of my favorite TV shows to watch while I cooked:

I assembled my ingredients:

For this recipe I used:

  • half a pound of whole wheat mafaldine (check out this post to find out more about mafaldine) or your favorite pasta
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
  • 4 Italian style chicken sausage
  • 1 large orange bell pepper
  • a couple big handfuls of spinach (I didn’t measure it, but see the picture below)
  • half a red onion, a swirl of olive oil, a few healthy glugs of white wine, and butter (all unpictured – what can I say, I like to improvise with what I have on hand!)

I didn’t end up using the mozzarella cheese because shortly after taking this picture, I realized that is was spotted with mold (even though the sell by date wasn’t for another week!) and I’m not really into moldy cheese in my dinner.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente.

Prep the veggies and chicken sausage:

Dice the onion, quarter the mushrooms, and dice the bell pepper.  Cut the zucchini and the chicken sausage into thinly sliced half moons.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and then cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and a tablespoon of butter and continue cooking for another few minutes until the mushrooms are browned.

Add the bell pepper, zucchini, and chicken sausage and saute for another 5 – 7 minutes until the vegetables are soft.  When the veggies are soft and the chicken sausage is heated through, deglaze the pan with a few healthy glugs of white wine.  If you’re not really into white wine, you can substitute chicken stock.

When the wine has reduced, add the cooked pasta and about 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water.  While the pasta water reduces, roughly chop a healthy amount of spinach.

I love my greens!

Add the spinach to the pot, a handful at a time.  It will look like it isn’t going to fit, but as it wilts, it will all fit.

Give the mixture a stir to combine and cook for another minute or two – long enough to wilt the spinach but not long enough for it to become mushy.

Portion into four dishes (two for dinner tonight, two for lunch tomorrow) and serve.

The white wine and pasta water combination created a very light sauce which didn’t overpower the flavors of the pasta or the veggies.  The chicken sausage provided a source of protein, but I could take it or leave it.  Overall, for something that I created on the fly, this was quite good.

Fiesta Spinach Salad

Oh, this was soooooo good!  On Wednesday, after a long day of cleaning out the storage closet at work (no small feat!) followed by a post-work bike ride, all I wanted for dinner was something simple and delicious that used up some random ingredients in my fridge: black beans, an avocado on its last leg, and spinach.  Enter my creation of the Fiesta Spinach Salad:

Start with a bed of spinach (I used two big handfuls).  I give mine a quick chop first.

Top with chopped bell pepper.  I used 1/2 of a large pepper, but you could use the whole thing if you bought a small one.

Top with about 1/2 cup-ish of black beans – I just eyeballed it.

Top with the protein of your choice.  I’m currently in love with Amy’s veggie burgers, which I mentioned before in this post.  As far as frozen veggie burgers go, these have the best texture, flavor, and ingredient list, hands down.

Top with 1/2 a small avocado.  Want to know an easy way to dice an avocado?  After slicing the avocado in half lengthwise, carefully score the avocado (make crisscross cuts that don’t pierce the skin).

Then carefully use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin.  So easy!

To keep the other half of the avocado from turning brown (the technical term is oxidative enzymatic browning – can’t believe I remember that from an undergraduate nutrition class!), wrap the avocado in plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the entire surface of the avocado.  This will keep the other half from turning brown as quickly.

Back to the salad – top the whole creation with a healthy amount of salsa.  
Another one of my favorites.  Paul Newman, what a guy!  Artie and I probably go through a jar of this each week.

Finally, give the entire thing a sprinkle of cheese.  We had white cheddar on hand.

Mmmmm so good.  This was easy to assemble (only got 6 dishes dirty – a cutting board, a knife, the cheese grater, a spoon, a fork, and a bowl), tasty, and exactly what I was craving.  It was enjoyed with an episode of this:
And the recipe was easily replicated the next morning to make for a delicious Thursday lunch:

The second time around, I didn’t have much spinach left (maybe a handful or so?) so I added in about a cup of raw broccoli florets, chopped into little pieces, and it worked really well.

Have a great weekend!