Monday, December 21, 2009

A family that cooks together... (Seared Scallops with Lemon Asparagus Risotto)

I love cooking with my family. Lately I’ve had a chance to whip up a meal or two with my brother Ed, and I look forward to our annual Christmas Culinary Duet, which we spent the better part of the morning planning.  This past Saturday night, Steve, Will and I had an amazing dinner. It brought back fond memories of Will’s high school years when he and I would cook Sunday Dinner, with Steve standing in the wings waiting to clean up our mess.

And a lovely mess we make. But if you ask Steve, he’ll tell you that it is worth it.

Saturday night's meal was particularly fun because Will made one of my signature dishes, Lemon Asparagus Risotto, to accompany a simple yet delicious preparation of seared sea scallops. 

Risotto is a Barnett staple we serve at special dinners but is also a “go to” meal that often rescues us from take-out when we don’t think we have anything in the house for dinner. But that’s another blog…

I have to say that it made both Steve and me very happy to see our son working so well on this dish. And it made us even happier when we tasted it.  The kid knows how to cook!

(photo - about half way through the cooking process, add the asparagus)

Seared Scallops
  • 2 – 3 Dry Diver Scallops per person
  • 2 – 3 Tbs light oil (peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

  • About 30 minutes before cooking, bring the scallops to come to room temperature.
  • There should not be any moisture on the scallops, but if there is, blot it off with a paper towel so you get a nice sear. Season the scallops with salt and pepper.
  • Coat the bottom of a large skillet with the oil – do not use a non-stick pan
  • Add the smashed garlic cloves and heat on low until slightly browned.  Take your time.  Patience will pay off with yummy garlic oil.
  • When the garlic is nice and brown - but not burnt - you can remove it from the pan and throw it away (or give it to someone you love to spread on a cracker or bit of crusty bread)
  • Raise the heat to medium high.
  • When the oil is good and hot, carefully add the the scallops one by one and sear for 3 – 4 minutes. Don't crowd them.  Don’t mess with them. Let the heat do its magic.  When the scallops are a light caramel color, turn them and cook the other side another 3 – 4 minutes.
  • Remove and serve with lemon asparagus risotto.
 Lemon Asparagus Risotto

  • 5 cups chicken stock (Be sure to use stock and not broth)
  • 1-inch strip lemon peel
  • 1 clove garlic smashed
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ dry white wine (can substitute more stock in necessary)
  • 3 Tbs Butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, minced
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • 10 thin or 8 thick spears of asparagus, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on micro-plane
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Additional Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper for garnish.


Prepare the chicken stock:
  • In a medium saucepan combine the chicken stock, garlic, lemon peel, sage and thyme. Heat over medium heat until just boiling and then decrease heat to Low.
 Prepare the risotto:

  • Over medium heat in a large sauce pan melt 2 T of the butter and all of the olive oil
  • Sauté onion until translucent
  • Add rice and stir until coated
  • Add wine and stir until absorbed
  • Add hot chicken stock mixture in ½ cup increments, stirring until absorbed and then adding more; it is ready to add more when a spoon dragged thru the mixture creates a “canyon.” 
  • After about 10 minutes add the asparagus and continue adding broth as above
  • After about 10 more minutes the rice will be tender, but still firm or “al dente.” (taste a few grains to check) At this point, add the rest of the stock and stir until it has almost absorbed it all.
  • Now, add the remaining Tbs of  butter, cheese and lemon zest.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve:
Sprinkle with additional black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Snow (Healthier Oven Fried Chicken)

You know you're originally from California when you see snowflakes and your brain tells you they are ashes from a wildfire. It was only for a nanosecond, but today as I was walking into Whole Foods that very thing happened.  

But no, it was snow.  A pretty dusting on the trees and shrubs and pristine white piles along the roads and rooftops. The forecast is for one more day of the white stuff and then we should be back to Carolina Blue Skies and crisp winter temps.  As long as the golf course dries out soon so Steve can get out and play we should be just dandy.

Will's home for Christmas, which makes things even better.  Tonight we'll decorate the tree (unbelievably fresh) and have a nice dinner at home, hence the trip to Whole Foods for diver sea scallops. I'll blog the resulting recipe tomorrow.  

For today, I'm sharing an incredibly easy and yummy oven friend chicken recipe that you really must try.  It's yet another application for Fage Greek Yogurt, which takes the place of the skin with great results.  I made this one up the other evening, and now it is yours...

Healthier Oven Fried Chicken
(This is for four thighs, you can adjust the proportions as needed for more or less chicken or different parts)


  • 4 Organic chicken thighs, bone in, skin off
  • 3 oz Fage 0% Fat Plain Greek Yogurt (1/2 a container)
  • 2 tsp Helman's Mayonnaise (Best Foods, west of the Rockies)
  • 1 Tbs poultry seasoning
  • 1 Clove garlic, mashed into paste with the flat side of a knife and a pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt 
  • 2 tsp Fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 cup Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs (or any other bread crumb of choice - Panko would be great, but I've not tried it yet)
  • Pam spray

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Line cooking sheet with foil and spray lightly with Pam spray

  • Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl
  • Add chicken and coat completely
  • Dredge the yogurt-coated chicken in the breadcrumbs
  • Set on baking sheet 
  • Spray chicken lightly with Pam

Bake in oven for 30 - 35 minutes
Let rest for 10 minutes before serving

This is great with steamed asparagus and scoop of jasmine rice cooked with chicken broth and a smashed clove of garlic -- toss in some freshly chopped scallions or chives right before you serve the rice.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you don’t like the weather… just wait ‘til later (Savory Chicken and Tomato Risotto)

It was a brisk 31 degrees when I rolled into the office parking lot the other morning. A Carolina Blue sky overhead and frost on the ground – a good day to hunker down and get some work done. By nightfall it was raining and the next day it was sunny clear again. As they say here, if you don’t like the weather, just wait… it will change shortly.

I’ve come to enjoy the ups and downs of North Carolina weather – even if I don’t have a clue what to wear. Clear and sunny means cotton and sandals to a former Californian. You only make that mistake once!

The recent chilly days and nights are also a good excuse to make risotto, a Barnett family favorite and what I tend to make when nothing is in the house. Last night was just such a night. And below is the “what’s in the pantry” dinner we enjoyed as we listened to the rain on the rooftop. Oh, and it was sunny and warm enough today to take a walk without a jacket at lunchtime. Go figure.

Savory Chicken and Tomato Risotto (and fresh thyme from the plant that keeps on giving...)

  • 1 large box chicken stock (about 5 cups)
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (I keep a little plant growing at all times), leaves removed and slightly chopped (or a Tbs of dry thyme will do)
  • 2 frozen chicken tenders, slightly thawed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup tomato paste1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs and 2 tsp butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (the best you can find)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper


  • Heat the broth until boiling and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this warm for use throughout the preparation

In a medium sized sauce pan over a medium flame:

  • Coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil and melt 1 Tbs of the butter
  • Sauté the onions until soft
  • Add the garlic and sauté until soft – don’t brown it!
  • Remove the garlic and onion with a slotted spoon – reserve for later
  • Now add the chicken, a pinch or two of the salt and pepper and cook until lightly brown. It may still be slightly frozen in the center, that’s OK. Remove with a slotted spoon – reserve for later
  • Add the tomato paste, thyme and reserved onion/garlic mixture to the drippings left in the pan and sauté until heated through (this really helps develop the flavor)

Now for the rice... this takes about 20 minutes, but is well worth it. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the process...

  • Add the rice and wine and heat through.
  • Now start adding the warm chicken stock ½ cup at a time, stirring as you go and adding more as each portion is absorbed. You don’t have to stir it constantly, but don’t leave it alone.
  • When you are half way through the broth, add the chicken and peas. Keep adding more broth until you’ve used it all and the rice is done, but still slightly firm.
  • Remove from the heat, and still in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. Season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

Dust with a little more cheese and a few more fresh thyme leaves (if you've got 'em) before serving.