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There is something about seafood, shellfish in particular, that seems so decadent. Even the most simply prepared pot of mussels can elevate a meal, and a platter of raw oysters with a squeeze of lemon is a delicacy I imagine few would turn down at a cocktail party. Never mind that it was not long ago that oysters were reserved for the proletariat, and lobsters were eschewed as undesirable bottom-feeders. At the banquet of life in the twenty-first century, seafood is king.

Whenever in doubt what to feed company, I turn to the vast oceans.  Grilled jumbo shrimp cocktail. Mussels cooked in a saffron broth, or in wine and cream. Lobster pot pie. The choices are endless, and require very little time or fuss, since seafood is best highlighted with only a couple of extra flavors in order to let its specialness shine through. What could be easier than a throwing a few scallops into a pan with a knob of butter, or tossing some clams and spaghetti together with garlic and olive oil?

When I came across this recipe for Bay Scallop Gratin by Ina Garten, it instantly became one of my best-loved and oft-cooked recipes. It combines several of my favorite ingredients: scallops, butter, shallots, and panko bread crumbs. And of course, it’s gratineed. I think I would eat my shoe if it were gratineed.

Serve these scallops in individual gratin dishes alongside a salad and a loaf of crusty French bread and you have an elegant meal that will impress even your most important dinner guests. Follow it with creme brulee for dessert and you’ll knock it out of the park. Not bad for half an hour in the kitchen.

Ina Garten’s Bay Scallop Gratin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 large garlic cloves, minced

2 medium shallots, minced

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, minced

4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Pernod

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons good olive oil

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

6 tablespoons dry white wine

2 pounds fresh bay scallops

lemon, for garnish

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 425F. Place 6 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

2) To make the topping, mix the butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt and pepper until well combined

3) With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise. Fold in panko with a rubber spatula.

4) Place 1 tablespoon of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. Pat scallops dry with paper towels and distribute evenly among the dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the scallops.

5) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the topping is browned and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. Turn on the broiler and bake for 2 more minutes for a crusty, golden finish.

6) Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

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cococuplong

I’d been wanting to make Ina Garten’s coconut cupcakes ever since I bought her Barefoot Contessa cookbook over a year ago. I love Ina’s recipes and I faithfully watch her show. Her food is simple yet delicious. Classic, with a twist. I rely on her books when I entertain, and they haven’t failed me yet. People are always impressed with the things I make from Ina’s books.

I do admit, though, I usually skip the chapter on baked goods. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her pecan squares or her croissant bread pudding. In fact, they look fabulous. I just have a wee bit of a problem with adding a pound of butter to whatever I bake. Maybe it’s me and I just haven’t baked enough to know how rich a lot of baking can be. It’s one thing to buy a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie to go with your latte at Starbucks, quite another to see all the fat that goes into such a cookie when you make it at home.

Take those pecan squares of Ina’s. Her recipe calls for 1 1/4 pounds of butter for the crust and 1 pound of butter for the topping. Her recipe makes twenty squares. Do the math. That’s a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m all for butter–I can’t live without it. But really, sometimes too much is too much.

But I couldn’t get the coconut cupcakes off my mind. When the opportunity to make them presented itself in the form of my brother’s birthday last week, I finally made them. Needless to say, I reduced the amount of butter called for in Ina’s recipe. I don’t think it diminished the cupcakes in any way. Despite my building them up in my mind for so long, they did not disappoint, and I’ll definitely make them again.

I did add a twist of my own, though. Lemon. I love lemon. Everything tastes better with lemon, in my humble opinion. I added the juice of a couple of lemons to the batter and the icing, along with their zest. They gave these rich cupcakes a bit of contrast and a refreshing tang, and the little yellow flecks of zest made them look even more scrumptious.

 

Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

adapted from “The Barefoot Contessa” cookbook

Makes 18-20 large cupcakes

cococup

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

cream cheese icing (recipe below)

 

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 325F. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in vanilla extract.

2) Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In three parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

3) Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each cup with batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

4) Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and finish cooling on a wire rack. Frost with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 pound cream cheese at room teperature

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 pounds icing sugar, sifted

 

Blend together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electirc mixer. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

 

I did not change the icing recipe in any way. I was afraid that if I began tinkering with it, it might not come out right. You might want to use just a little icing for each cupcake and freeze the rest for next time.

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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