My First Mushroom

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Someone asked me today what got me started in my business; where did this passion come from?  I had to sit back a minute and think about it.  After all, I've been doing it for such a long time that I feel it was always there, but there is always a beginning to every story, and this is mine.

Growing up, I couldn't really cook.  My parents were of the era where meat was cooked until it turned to shoe leather, vegetables came from a can, and the trend for convenience and budget meant potato spuds from a box.  I rarely liked what was put in front of me, with few exceptions.

Money was used to pay bills and not to go to college, so after I graduated high school, I went to an art school in Pittsburgh via student loans.  In order to pay for room and board, I stayed with a French family and watched their young daughter and helped with the cooking.  This was an introduction into another life I had never experienced.  I was 19 and tasted my very first mushroom!  Imagine a mushroom being the catalyst to buying my first cookbook.  I actually still have it in my collection so many years later, and I am sharing my first recipe ever made that I still make to this day.

I enjoyed following the recipes and even more so, I enjoyed the results.  Little by little, without realizing it, I was laying the foundation for what would become my passion.

And then life happened.  I got married, started a family, got a divorce, and had to get a job.  I went to work for a mortgage company and ended up settling in for sixteen years.  Cooking and baking were on the back burner.

Fast forward ten years.  I remarried, and my children were pretty much grown and doing their own thing.  I had more time but still didn't really think of food as my passion, as much as it was a necessity.  I enjoyed entertaining and creating little bites for my friends that would ooh and aah, but I believe I thought it was more about the entertaining.  Then one day, I was watching a show about making cupcakes.  It was a contest, it was fun, and I started thinking what flavor I would make; I then, of course, had to make them.   How hard could cupcakes be?  After all, I was pretty good with a recipe. With a huge amount of confidence, I made my special flavor, and when I pulled them out of the oven, I was aghast to see all I had made were hockey pucks.  What?  The second try resulted in the same disgusting manner.  The challenge was on, and I was going to win.

With determination and malice, I rose to the cause of defeating my nemesis.   I researched, I watched, I read, and I discovered what I was doing wrong. Finally after several attempts: voila!   I had created a light, fluffy, and moist cupcake.  I took them into work, and they were devoured.  So naturally, I had to make more.... and then I made even more.  It was almost like once I had succeeded, the underlying bug in my bed of creativity was awoken and all I wanted to do was cook or bake.

I was like a sponge.  I couldn't read enough food magazines, watch an overabundance of food shows, or practice on too many people.  I would take my samples into my work kitchen and watch everyone enjoy.  I was loving what I could accomplish.                                

Then the market dropped out, and within a short span, my father and my youngest brother died.  It was almost like I died.  The only thing that seemed to keep me going was stirring a bowl of chocolate or finding some new hors d'oeuvre to try.  I was losing my desire to go to work.  I didn't know what to do until a friend sat me down and said, "Do what you love."  But at my age, the fear of starting over was a little overwhelming.  It wasn't until I went to my last closing and noticed "the sign" on a cup of coffee; this little quote on the side of a cup was what made me decide to take the leap.  "Follow your passion and you will find your purpose."

Today, it's been three years to the month that I have been the owner of The Twisted-Fork, and I haven't looked back. It hasn't been without difficulty, but every day is a new day, and I love it. There are learning curves everywhere, and every day I move forward with new knowledge of something to continue making my food beautiful and tasty.  I know this is the right path for me because truly... "if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose."

 

 

Garlic Shrimp

When I go to a restaurant I am my husband’s – and probably the wait staff’s – worst nightmare.  I must have it my way.  A little of this and a little of that.  If I could take a bit from each entrée it would be perfect because it seems there is always something I don’t like on every item, but something I do like on every item.

Such is the way when I look at a new recipe.  I become inspired by one recipe, but like ingredients from another and pretty soon I have a collaboration of two or three different recipes.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I think tonight’s adventure did.

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This is a marriage of ingredients from 3 different recipes, inspired mostly from a Food and Wine recipe I found online.  It was a fairly quick meal to fix and although I paired it with coconut rice, you could serve it with a salad or crusty bread and it would still be a filling meal for you.

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Just make sure when you eat this, share the joy.  There is a lot of garlic in it and you know they always say that if one eats garlic, then everyone should.  Don’t worry, they’ll all love it.

On a side note…no vampires will be visiting for a while.

Garlic Shrimp

Course Appetizer, Entree
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced thin
  • 2 stalks baby bok choy, sliced thin
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 lemon juiced about 2 Tablespoons
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in saucepan.

  2. Add bay leaf, garlic, crushed red pepper and saute until fragrant, approximately 3-4 minutes.

  3. Salt and pepper shrimp and add to oil mixture, cooking until shrimp are done, approximately 3-4 minutes.

  4. Add red pepper and bok choy and cook for 1 additional minute.

  5. Add butter, sherry, lemon juice and stir until butter is incorporated and melted.

  6. Add chopped parsley.

  7. Serve immediately.

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

When it comes to the standard way of making things, or trying something new, my husband and I are typically at odds.  For Peter, lobster has to be served steamed in a shell, shrimp can be with a cocktail sauce or in scampi.  You can’t have pizza with goat cheese and you certainly can’t have pea soup without green peas.  Until now that is, because I live by a different set of rules.

Let me just give you a little background on this.  I grew up with pea soup.  It was always a staple when we had leftover ham.  It was green and thick and not very appetizing.  So it was a huge mistake on my part, when I mentioned after our ham dinner, the idea of making soup.  It turns out, much to my dismay, that he loved pea soup.

Well, I half-thought about it and when I was at the market, I picked up a bag of split peas.  Peter would be so surprised if I actually made this for him.  But visions flashed before me of the thick green paste and I immediately scrubbed that idea and threw the peas back on the shelf.  I started to walk away and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a bag with split yellow peas.  That’s right….YELLOW peas.  I never had them before, but after looking at the back of the bag and the recipe idea it gave, I thought I could make it work.  It was a good compromise.

That weekend, since it was cold and definitely feeling like a soup day, I decided to give it a try.  I cooked my ham bone down and reserved the broth and although I did refer to the bag recipe, I did change the recipe quite a bit to make it more my style.  This was working!

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The flavor was really good and the texture of the broth was more like a vegetable broth.  I was so happy because I thought his was something I could eat and Peter would love that we had split pea soup.  I really believed this was our soup of compromise.

Until my husband sat down to dinner that is.  He took a bite and it wasn’t so bad.  He took another bite and it was ok.  The third bite, he decided to tell me that pea soup was meant to be green and mushy.  This simply was NOT going to do.

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So once again we were at odds.  I loved it and he did not.  He wanted his green thick mush and I liked the texture more like a broth.  And it’s okay.  It’s okay if he doesn’t like it, because he doesn’t have to love everything I make and he has his standards.  But I will probably make it again and he will probably eat it again and complain again.   And have another two helpings again.

Do you really have two helpings if you don’t like something?

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

Course Appetizer, Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 bag yellow split peas
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups water, chicken broth, ham bone broth or a combination I used 6 cups chicken broth and 2 cups of my ham broth
  • 2 cups diced, cooked ham
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup croutons optional

Instructions

  1. Soak, rinse and sort peas per package instructions.

  2. Heat oil in a large, heavy 5-7 quart pot.

  3. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook until tender,

  4. Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.

  5. Add salt and pepper and stir to coat vegetables.

  6. Add cup of wine and stir to deglaze, scraping up any bits from the pan.

  7. Add broth and or water and bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, about 2 to 3 hours.

  8. Add ham and serve topped with croutons if desired.

A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravy

There are always those times when you want something easy but a bit more than a soup and sandwich.  Maybe it’s mid-week busy night or a Saturday evening with friends.  And of course it has to turn out right every time.

In conjunction with my last post this Crispy Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appétit goes very well with the Farro Risotto.  I have made this chicken several times and it comes out perfect every time.  If you aren’t confident in the kitchen you can still pull this off looking like a pro and the flavors will make everyone think you spent all day in the kitchen.

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The sauce is interchangeable.  If you don’t want it as sweet, use a tart apple and add more mustard.  It is really all about what you like.  Just have fun with it.  You can start with the basics of what I’ve given you and make it your own.  This is the reason I love cooking so much.

Have fun and invite friends over.  Let them think you worked all day.  Share what you love because this is what it is all about.

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravey

Course Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs about 2 1/4 pounds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup apple jelly
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons apple brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

Instructions

  1. Heat apple cider over medium high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until reduced by half and thickened. Set aside to cool.

  2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Season chicken wit salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.

  3. Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13 minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

  4. In the meantime, combine 2 Tablespoons of the apple cider (reserve remainder for another use), 2/3 cup apple jelly, Dijon mustard, apple brandy and grated ginger in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

  5. Pour over chicken and serve.

Farro Risotto with Roasted Squash, Apple and Kale

I love this time of year.  I’m ready after the humid, muggy summer to breathe in some fresh crisp air.  I long for my sweaters and log fires to warm the evenings.  With the falling leaves comes the desire of using the abundance of fall flavors such as sage, pumpkins, squash and apples.

Did I mention I love fall?

I’m obsessed with apples right now.  I brought several different types of apples home with me the other day from the market, preparing for an all out apple fest.  I dove in, ready to conquer the sweet to the savory. The only thing I was missing was the road side apple cider stand.

So I have my apples, I love the fall and now I have to do something with all of it.  Well, that’s easy.  I decided to make this combination of a couple of recipes I had seen…  it was everything the autumn season is all about.  Farro Risotto with Apples, Squash, Kale and Sage.  My husband is loving me so much right now.  This meal is on his diet plan since it’s fairly healthy, but it’s also got flavor, texture and comfort, and it doesn’t taste like it’s a diet plan.

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I paired this with crispy chicken thighs and an apple cider gravy which will be coming in my next post, but for now try this out.   It’s in the top ten of my husband’s all time favorites, so I think you will like it.

Put on a sweater and fill your belly with the taste of fall.  It’s a yum on the food meter!

Farro Risotto with Roasted Squash, Apple and Kale

Course Entree, Side Dish
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup diced butternut squash
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup farro
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons diced bacon
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 dice and peeled Granny Smith apple
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Toss squash with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes or until squash starts to brown. Remove and set aside.

  3. Soak the farro in cold water to cover for 20-30 minutes. Drain and combine with the chicken stock in a medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to the farro is bubbling gently; cook until just tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain the farro over a bowl so that you can reserve the cooking liquid and set both aside in a warm place.

  4. In the same saucepan, cook bacon until mostly crisp. Add butter and oil and melt slightly and then add shallots, and garlic and cook about 3 more minutes or until fragrant.

  5. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat a little and simmer until the wine has reduced by about two-thirds, another 5 minutes or so.

  6. Add the faro, the apples, and squash and enough of the reserved chicken stock to get a slightly creamy consistency.

  7. Add the kale, sage leaves and more Parmesan and/or salt if necessary and several grinds of black pepper.

  8. Serve immediately or cover and reheat gently before serving, adding more liquid if necessary.

Cold Weather and Soup

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There comes a point in time when I am tired of the summer weather.  I know many of you won't agree with me but I long for sweaters and fires and cozy comfort.  That is probably one reason why I decided I needed to ignore the 75 degree weather in the beginning of October and make some soup.

I love soup.  It takes me back to those childhood days of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches my mom would make me.  It was soup out of a can but it still gave you the warmth and cozy home feeling after the chill of the autumn air.

I had seen this soup recipe in our local newspaper and of course I couldn't leave it alone...I had to put my own spin on it.  I am so glad I did because as we were sitting around the table in our shorts and flip-flops, my husband said to me that if we weren't already married, after eating this soup he would have married me!  How is that for a testimonial on how good this was?

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This is super easy to make so even on a busy day, you can have this for your family dinner.   A salad and some crusty bread will make it a complete meal.

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Cold weather will be here soon and I will be making this again.  Heavy socks, a warm sweater and a bowl of this soup will take me back to my mom's kitchen.  I don't know about you, but it doesn't get any better than that.

 

Dinner for one

There are all forms of entertaining.  Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events.  There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs.  It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort.  But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?

What do people do when they eat alone?  I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn.  I never thought of making an effort for myself.  I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do.  We just do whatever is the easiest.

Tonight however, I changed my mind about things.  My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening.  In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab.   Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home.  I was going to make myself a real dinner.

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I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was.  It calls for adding lobster to pasta.  What was I thinking?  Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter?  It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did!   Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy.  The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.

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You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs.  They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance.  Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company.  It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.

 

An Interview with Jamie Young of Thirty 7 North Restaurant

Despite it’s location in a rather affluent area of Virginia Beach, Thirty 7 North Restaurant and Bar is an unassuming and relaxed place to go for dinner or to meet friends for an after work drink.  Located at 2105 West Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach and known for it’s elegant farm to table American Cuisine, it’s a casual on the water restaurant headed up by executive chef, Jamie Young.

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Jamie is a fresh new face to us, but not to the culinary world.  A graduate of Johnson and Wales, he moved to this area in 2012 to be with his sister who was in the military.  He was immediately hired on as the sous chef with Thirty 7 North and the rest is history.

I had the pleasure of talking to Jamie not too long ago, to discuss his passionate commitment of what he does best, serving up delicious and beautiful plates of incredibly good tasting food.

What is your philosophy on food and how do you come up with your menus?

It’s all about going back to the basics.  Keep it local, create new ideas but remembering to keep it simple.

How do you come up with the menus?  What is it that you are trying to create for the public?

It’s a team effort.  We put ideas together on what is fresh and what can come from what we grow or the local farms.  We want to create a healthy and simple – again back to the basics- menu.  I want to stay away from additives and go back to braising, grilling and roasting.

What tip would you have for the home cook that would really get them the “wow” factor?

It’s all about the attention to detail.  Create texture in food, make sure the plates are wiped.  The little things matter.

Have you ever cooked for anyone famous?  If so, who was it and what did you prepare?

Everyone is famous here!  Actually, when I worked in Charlotte,  I prepared Bananas Foster Pancake for Rosario Dawson, who is a female actress.  She liked breakfast.  And Michael Jordan came in several times, but there was never anything special he asked for.

What is your favorite local food  to cook with?  What is one of your signature dishes you like to use it in?

Rockfish.  My favorite is with wilted kale, roasted pumpkins from Stoney’s and a spiced butter sauce.

What is your favorite kitchen gadget you love to use?

My Vitamix.  It’s great for creating sauces and purees.  You can get different textures with it.

Jamie is about as relaxed and friendly as anyone I know, but don’t get me wrong.  He is a whirlwind of activity having just completed the Iron Chef competition, where dishes like bacon jam on cornbread and Geechi boy grits with braised goat were served.  He is also working with Jim White on nutritional fitness and is hoping to bring healthy menus together for the community.

Listed below is one of his recommendations, “House Pasta with Charred Yuzu Salsa”,  for the home cook to try.  If you can’t or don’t want to try and make it yourself, make reservations with Thirty 7 North by calling 757-412-0203.  I bet if you asked Jamie, he would make it for you!

 

 

 

 

Scallops, Mushrooms, and Scallions

Last weekend I was getting ready to go out to breakfast with my husband and in the background was a show on PBS that I was semi listening to.  Did you ever have one of those moments when suddenly what you aren’t paying attention to suddenly becomes your entire focal point?  Lydia Bastianich was pointing a finger at me and telling me I should pay attention because it was the dinner I had waited for.  Ok,, she didn’t really call out my name but it was a dinner I could have waited for.  I could have literally licked the TV screen.  She had put together a dish of mushrooms and scallions and scallops with a beautifully caramelized crust to them and it had my name written all over it.

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Later that morning, we were out eating breakfast and I’m telling my husband about this dish.  He had the same reaction I did.   Conveniently, the bookstore was right next to where we were  (I know it was fate) and we ran over.  On the spot we bought her new cookbook, “Lydia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking”.  Not only did it have this recipe, but several others I will try soon.  It’s a great addition to your cookbook collection.

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One thing I do want to note on this recipe is that you want dry scallops.  You have to ask for them when you go to the market.  Typically you get the scallops that have sat in some chemical brine and they are slimy and won’t caramelize well.  It’s definitely worth the extra effort and your scallops taste so much better because they haven’t absorbed that chemical brine.

I also added brown rice to this recipe as a starch base.  You don’t need it, but it did add a little substance to the meal.  I just placed a large spoonful under the mushrooms before serving.

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I will definitely make this again.  The mushroom combination hit a home run with the garlic and butter flavors hanging on discretely to every mushroom.  The crunch of the scallion was a nice sharp bite in comparison to the sweet softness of the scallop.

The next time someone yells at you from the TV to pay attention, do it.  This really hit a 4 star YUM rating on my palate.  You need to try this!

Scallops, Mushrooms, and Scallions

Course Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 8 cups sliced mixed mushrooms, (buttons, shitake, cremini and chanterelles)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and lightly chopped (approximately 2 cups)
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter I used 4 Tablespoons
  • 1 1/4 pounds sea scallops, foot or side muscle removed
  • good quality balsamic vinegar for optional drizzling

Instructions

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, over medium high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

  2. Add garlic.

  3. Once garlic begins to sizzle, add the mushrooms and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

  4. Cook until mushrooms begin to wilt, about 6 to 7 minutes.

  5. Add the scallions, thyme sprigs and butter and cook until the mushrooms are tender, another 3 to 4 minutes.

  6. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm, removing thyme sprigs.

  7. Wipe out the skillet, return to medium high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

  8. Season the scallops with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, turning once, until just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

  9. Serve on mushrooms, drizzled with balsamic vinegar if desired.

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