Scallops With White Wine & Garlic / Mango, Avocado & Butter Lettuce Salad

I’m very much a creature of habit when it comes to weeknight meals: I have a stable of standards that I rotate through on pretty much a weekly basis, but very rarely have the time and/or inclination to come up with something totally new to try out, mostly because that requires the employment of brain cells and energy that seem to have flown the coop in recent weeks.

And I feel kind of bad about that.

Because while I think that my staple meals are pretty good and don’t personally require a ton of variety in my diet (I’m one of those people who will eat the same breakfast cereal every day for a year)…I know that Kendrick likes it when I try something different. It’s so fun to present him with a brand-new creation: he totally lights up (because he knows it makes me happy) and always declares that it’s his New! Favorite! Dish! (also, I suspect, because he knows it makes me happy).

And so here’s what I do when I want to try something new but don’t want to spend forever getting all imaginative and/or rifling through cookbooks, putting together a menu, shopping for tons of ingredients that aren’t already in my cupboards, and figuring out how to cook something I’ve never even touched upon before:

I play the “What’s About To Go Bad In My Refrigerator Game.”

And then I take those three or four ingredients, do a minute of free associating to come up with how they might work together with the addition of one or two more items…and then type those key words into Google to see if anything strikes my fancy.

When I checked out my refrigerator around 5:30 last night, I discovered that the following items were in attendance and looked quite delicious, but were most certainly on the downhill slope and wouldn’t be any good within a day or two: 1 mango, 1 avocado, 1 head of butter lettuce, 1 box fresh spinach linguine

A little what-would-be-good-with-this free-association led me to: Scallops!

And a little Googling showed me that (as I’d already suspected) a white wine and garlic sauce would be the way to go. Google wanted me to add scallions. But I forgot to get those when I went to the supermarket.

Anyway: one quick trip to the supermarket for parsley and scallops, a stop at the wine store for a bottle of white, and dinner was ready twenty minutes after I stepped through the door.

MANGO, AVOCADO & BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD (Inspired by The Daily Julie)

What you need:

1 head of butter lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 ripe mango, diced

1 avocado, diced

Fresh lemon juice

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

What you do:

Just toss everything together in a large bowl. Maybe throw in a little goat cheese, if you have it.

SEA SCALLOPS WITH WHITE WINE & GARLIC OVER SPINACH LINGUINE (serves 2)

What you need:

1 box fresh linguine

1/2 lb sea scallops

3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

About 1/2 cup white wine

Fresh lemon juice

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

3 tbsp butter

1 handful parsley, chopped

What you do:

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

2. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saute pan, add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two. Add the white wine and a splash of lemon juice, and allow to reduce slightly.

3. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions (fresh pasta should only take a couple of minutes).

4. Add the scallops to the saute pan and cook for about a minute, then turn and cook for a couple of minutes on the other side, until just cooked through (be careful not to overcook them, or they’ll be tough). (Note: you could also sear them first for that pretty caramelized color, but I’m a newbie to scallop-cooking, and totally forgot. Still good!)

5. Drain the pasta, leaving a bit of pasta water in there to loosen it up, and toss in the scallops with white wine and garlic sauce, butter, and parsley. Add salt & pepper to taste.

How-To: Spectacular Park Picnic

Picnics are the best.

But the problem with picnics is that once you’re on one, you’re sort of…stuck. You’re all set up with a big blanket and lots and lots of stuff, you’re theoretically in the middle of a large expanse of grass or sand or some other convenience store-free locale…and if you forgot anything…

well…

too bad.

Below, my best tips on how to make your next picnic delicious, guava-flavored-wine-soaked, and generally a blast.

Dogs, first and foremost.

Also:

- A bigger-than-you-think-you’ll-need blanket (the more room you have to spread out, the better). Bonus points if your blanket is bright and adorable, like this one from Target.

- Lots of bottled water

- Extra cups, plates and napkins

- Plastic utensils, if you’re serving anything that can’t be eaten with your hands

- Trash bags

- Moist towelettes or wipes (especially if dogs and/or children are involved)

- Cooler with ice packs

- Something to read or do in the downtime (I think picnics are a perfect moment for a) frisbee and b) US Weekly)

- An awesome wine tote for your awesome sangria (or awesome boxed wine)

BRIE & APPLE SANDWICH

1. Layer Brie (shoot for the best quality you can afford and load it on) and thinly sliced green apple on a baguette. You can also add a few slices of turkey, if you like.

2. Drizzle with a little honey or honey mustard.

WATERMELON, TOMATO & BASIL SALAD (Remember to bring plastic utensils)

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups watermelon chunks, 2 sliced tomatoes (1 red, 1 yellow is pretty), 1/3 cup crumbled feta, and a big handful of roughly chopped basil. Toss with olive oil and sea salt.

MIXED BERRIES

CHIPS (Pack them in air-filled resealable bags to prevent crushing)

SOMETHING CHOCOLATE THAT WILL NOT MELT (I like banana-chocolate bread pudding from a store, but cookies work, too)

GUAVA SANGRIA

In a large pitcher, combine 1 bottle relatively cheap, preferably vaguely sparkly white wine (I use Vinho Verde, about $6.99 and even cheaper at Trader Joe’s), 3/4 cup guava juice, 3/4 cup orange juice, 1 thinly sliced lemon, 1 thinly sliced lime, 1 tsp lemon zest, and 1/2 tsp lime zest, and let sit overnight in refrigerator.

Just before serving, add a bunch of sliced strawberries and a splash of club soda (if desired) to each serving. Garnish with a lemon wheel or halved strawberry.

A few things to remember…

- If all the ice in the cooler has melted when you get home, the leftovers probably aren’t safe to save and re-serve

- Use multipurpose utensils (sporks!) to save space

- Extra munchies are always welcome: throw some fun additions like mixed nuts, olives, brownies, or mixed veggies with dip into your picnic basket

There Was This Dish, And I Can’t Stop Thinking About It

This one. The gnocchi with mozzarella and basil at Carpe Diem.

Now, granted, both Morgan and I were pregnant last time we ate there. So that might have had something to do with the fact that we were practically rolling on the floor with the gnocchi, it was so good. But I can’t be certain, so I think I may need to do a little scientific exploration in eating-there-again-as-soon-as-possible form.

Anyway, this is my version: it’s basically the simplest pasta ever, but what takes it to rolling-on-the-floor level is the quality of the ingredients you use: when you can count the number of ingredients in a dish on one hand, it’s best to go for the (really, really) good stuff. Fresh basil. Top-quality mozzarella. Fancy-pants tomatoes. That kind of thing.

All you do: cook the pasta in salted boiling water (fresh pasta, which is ideal, should only take a couple of minutes) while heating a can of best-quality crushed tomatoes in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir a little heavy cream into the sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste, then toss into the pasta along with a little reserved pasta water, a cup of cubed fresh bufala mozzarella, and a large handful of shredded basil.

Easy Sunday Brunch: California Scramble

A little refrigerator-diving yesterday morning resulted in this pretty thing. I call it a “California Scramble” because it reminds me of a dish that was served at an LA haunt of mine, The Griddle, and because…I don’t know, it seems fresh and light and at least respectably healthy, what with the avocado and tomato and all.

CALIFORNIA SCRAMBLE (serves 2)

What you need:

1/2 onion, finely diced

5 large eggs

Splash of milk

2 tbsp butter

1 tomato, diced

1/2 ball fresh mozzarella, diced

1/4 avocado, diced

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

What you do: 

1. Heat a little olive oil and saute the onions until just translucent. Set aside.

2. Whisk together the eggs and milk in a small bowl.

3. Heat the butter in a frying pan until foaming (be generous with your butter; this is a more-is-better situation) and then add the eggs and scramble while they cook so they’re nice and fluffy.

4. Toss in the onion, tomato, mozzarella, and avocado, season to taste, and serve.

Penne With Artichokes And Smoked Mozzarella

Artichokes are about to come back in season!

I love artichokes.

Mostly I love them steamed and served with lemon butter (click here for a whole bunch of artichoke-makin’ tips)…but sometimes you need to pile those suckers into things like pasta and chicken dishes, and the more the better. And you don’t have time to wrangle a zillion fresh artichoke hearts out of their fuzzy little cocoons. Or maybe you’re just feeling lazy, and believe (like I do) that if you’re going to go through that ridiculous amount of effort, you’d rather just eat the things straight rather than mucking around with sauces.

And on those days, you know what comes in handy? Frozen artichoke hearts. I keep them stockpiled in the freezer at all times and add them to everything, I love them so.

And the frozen ones totally work here (my advice would be to skip the canned ones; they can get mushy). But within a couple of weeks we should start seeing the markets fill up with gorgeous, fresh specimens, and so if you’re feeling it, I say go ahead: wrangle away. And then invite me over for dinner, please.

(Note: while parsley is usually optional, I’m going to insist you add it to this one - it gives this dish a light, fresh touch that’s really lovely and makes it feel much spring-ier.)

PENNE WITH ARTICHOKES AND SMOKED MOZZARELLA (serves 4; inspired by Chicho’s Kitchen)

What you need:

1 package dried penne (or pasta of choice)

4 slices good-quality bacon, cut into matchsticks

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large (15 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 package frozen artichokes

1/2 cup diced smoked mozzarella

1 large handful parsley, chopped

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

What you do: 

1. Cook penne in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed skillet, fry your bacon matchsticks until the fat has rendered slightly.

3. Add a little more olive oil to the skillet if necessary, and throw in your onion and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the artichoke hearts and cook, stirring constantly, another couple of minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes and let simmer about 10 minutes, or until the sauce and artichokes are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add the penne to the skillet along with the smoked mozzarella cubes and parsley and toss to combine.

Serve with freshly grated parmigiana.

Zero-Hassle Chicken Wraps

This is so easy.

It’s what I do when I have absolutely no energy to deal with dinner and can’t even be bothered to boil water for pasta or roast up a chicken (which in itself is a seriously easy thing; if you don’t believe me, give this a read).

ZERO-HASSLE CHICKEN WRAPS

1. Shred 1/2 rotisserie chicken (reserve the other half for the next night, as you’ll likely have leftovers of all the other ingredients).

2. Saute 1 sliced green pepper and 1 sliced yellow onion in olive oil with a dash of garlic powder (or a couple of minced garlic cloves) until tender.

3. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can rinsed black beans, and 3 tbsp sliced green onion. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and a dash of salt; mix well. (This can be served as a side dish, or as another delicious thing to put in the tortillas.)

4. Serve by placing shredded chicken, onion/pepper combo, rice/beans combo, sliced avocado, grated cheddar cheese, and some sour cream alongside warmed flour tortillas and letting everyone serve themselves.

Eat This Now, I Mean It: Grilled Cheese with Bacon & Avocado

Ever since I had my first for-real grilled cheese experience a little over two years ago (not a joke; I went twenty-eight years before discovering the wonder that is melted cheese on toasted bread; and to answer your question, no, not even as a kid - my mother is an alien who doesn’t like cheese and never really kept any in the house), I’ve been sorta obsessed with them. I’m generally of the opinion that simplicity is key when it comes to food like this - give me Kraft Singles and Wonder Bread, and I am a happy lady - but sometimes the addition of things like bacon and avocado makes a dish just worlds better.

Oh, who am I kidding with that “sometimes” jazz?

Bacon and avocado always make a dish worlds better. Even (especially?) chocolate ice cream: bacon and avocado make that stuff better, too. (Try it.)

A little discovery I made last night: rather than spreading butter (or mayo) directly onto the outsides of the bread, which is both messy and a pain when you’ve forgotten to bring your butter to room temperature and it’s all hard and unspreadable, just pop a big dollop of it in a heated pan and let it get foamy before adding the sandwich. When you’re ready to flip the bread, just balance it on your spatula for a moment and let a little more butter melt in the pan before frying the other side.

Oh, and use really good bacon. Like, really good. Expensive. It’s worth it.

(I know, it doesn’t look like there’s bacon in there. That’s because there isn’t. I used up all our bacon in last night’s grilled cheeses, and then devoured them like a crazed velociraptor before I could even take a photo, so what’s pictured above is today’s sadly baconless lunchtime replica.)

Click here for more perfect-grilled-cheese tips.