Seared scallops with pancetta-braised chard

IMG_0478We developed a taste for scallops during our recent sojourn in Florida, so now that we’re back we decided to try our hand at making them in our decidedly more land-locked surroundings. Our local Fresh Market had some pretty large specimens on display tonight, which gave me the idea to try out a recipe I first read on the Food and Wine Magazine website: pan-seared scallops with a bacon and chard base. I don’t cook with chard often, and I don’t like it as much as the kale we used in our last scallop dish, but I figured what the hell — let’s get some rainbow chard and get cooking.

Seared Scallops with pancetta-braised chard
(inspired by Food and Wine Magazine)

  • img_53474 slices pancetta, cut into lardons
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, stems cut into 1/2″ strips, leaves cut into 1″ strips
  • 1 medium tomato, diced and de-seeded
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 8-12 sea scallops
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

In a deep cast-iron skillet, fry the pancetta until crisp. Add the shallots, sauteeing until they become soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 2-3 more minutes (being careful not to brown the garlic). Add the tomato and cook until it begins to break down, then add the chard stems. Cook the stems until they become tender, then add the leaves. Cook until the leaves are wilted; season with salt and pepper.

For the scallops, make sure they are very dry and dust them with a coating of salt and pepper. In a separate (screamingly hot skillet) sear the scallops in olive oil for 1-2 minutes. Flip the scallops, adding the butter to the skillet. Spoon the butter over the scallops as they sear on the other side. Arrange seared scallops on the chard mixture, and serve.

This is a fine and quick recipe, and if you do all your chopping and mincing in advance, you should have no problems juggling two pans. The sweetness of the scallops goes nicely with the earthiness of the chard, and this is sure to be a great main course (with sides) or a light starter to get things rolling. Happy cooking!

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One for the family

famWhen we started Arkansas Foodies, it was a way for Jess and I to have a hobby we could share that would fulfill interests we both had: cooking, photography, writing, and trying new food. As time went on, though, Foodies became about something more:  it became a way for us to keep up with our families despite the distance that separates us. Jess and I both come from close-knit families, and while time and circumstance has spread us all around the country, we still value our time together and celebrate each other whenever possible. We’ve got family from Denver to Glenwood to Hot Springs Village to Arkadelphia to Rogers — and it’s pretty hard to get us all in the same room for any given amount of time. We text and call, tag each other in pictures on Facebook, and occasionally tweet each other, but nothing compares to getting together — especially over food.

Peg Leg ComboA lot of what I post here goes up with family in mind, from recipes I think they’ll like to restaurants and festivals I think they’d enjoy. And whenever we DO all get a chance to get together, the blog serves as something else — a way for me to express how much fun I have with the family, as well as a recollection of good times had and experiences shared. It also lets other parts of our family keep up with us — not to mention lets me organize my thoughts in a way I’m used to.

So with that in mind, I’ll get to the delicious stuff — a triumphant return of the Millers, the Roberts, and one Garner to Peg Leg Pete’s, a restaurant with a silly name but great food that we first ate at back in 2011. As was our habit, we started off with a dozen oysters, and Peg Leg’s were far and away the best ones we tried — as good as any oysters I’ve had since our trip to Seattle. Jess and I decided to go all out and order two of Peg Leg’s big dishes: the Seafood Combo, a platter of fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried grouper, and fried scallops (sense a theme?) and the Mixed Grill, which basically had all that same stuff only blackened with spices on the grill.

Peg Leg Mix GrillThe best of the bunch? The grilled shrimp were amazing: large and succulent, with a spicy coating that didn’t overpower their innate sweetness. The fried grouper was fantastic, tender and moist with a crisp outer crust that went nicely with the spiced cocktail sauce on each plate. Scallops on both plates were good, although the table was nice enough to say that mine were better (thanks, guys). In fact, the only down note on either plate were the sugar snap peas, which were a little overcooked for my taste. Still, by the end of this feast we were stuffed to the rafters and in need of a little rest.

Vacations are always fun; vacations with family are even better. The memories made are what keeps the stressful times of the year manageable. We know a lot of great people here in Little Rock, but there’s nothing like family to put your mind at ease and make things just right. Cheers, and thanks to Joe, Tracy, Kevin, Ashley, and Andrew for such a fantastic trip!

The ups and downs of Flounders Chowder House

Flounders Po BoyAll we ask for from a restaurant is that it have decent food, decent cleanliness, and decent service. For Flounders Chowder House in Pensacola Beach, we’ll have to just agree that sometimes two out of three ain’t bad, because while the food was good and there wasn’t anything dirty that I could see, our server made us rather uncomfortable with the way she acted.

Here’s the thing about Flounders: it’s a spot that caters to tourists, and it’s insanely big — big enough that a there are several full-size boats and about 50 motors that make up a large part of the decor. It’s big enough to have a full play area for kids along with ample outside seating. So I get that the place is bustling. The flip side is this — in a big restaurant that caters to people who are probably unfamiliar with your menu, one drink menu for a 7 top is not good. Giving everybody 10 minutes to figure out drinks and appetizers isn’t good. And getting mad when you rushed us, then came back and we added more food to our bill (thus spending more money) is, in a word, ridiculous. And that’s how our waitress, Cathe, treated us, like idiots who were giving her a hard time…when in reality we were curious folks wanting to explore the menu.

But enough about the surly server. How about the food? We ordered a dozen oysters, and they were far better than our previous dozen, very fresh and no grit. Jess ordered a shrimp po’ boy which, while nothing out of the ordinary, was still loaded with tasty shrimp and served with some very respectable and crispy fries. Jess’s mom was nice enough to give me a a piece of her fried flounder, and it was fantastic — easily one of the best bites of seafood I had on the trip.

Flounders Seafood BurgerMy entree was the “seafood burger,” a thick grilled hamburger with a mish-mash of crab and other seafood on top. I ordered the burger medium…and got it cooked a perfect medium, which went a long way to earning the place some respect. The seafood topping was tasty, and the fries were (once again) quite good. This was a gigantic burger, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The rest of our table seemed as pleased with their meals as Jess and I were with ours, and several of the Millers had fun downing the massive “Diesel Fuel” mixed drinks (which I avoided). By the end of the meal, even Cathe had seemed to make peace with us, and I will give her credit that our orders came out just like we asked for them, and she had no problem splitting our bill the way we wanted. By the end of the meal, we were all so full that the previous weirdness was (mostly) forgotten anyway. Special thanks for this meal go to Jess’s cousin Kevin, who graciously picked up the tab for all our entrees, which makes him a mensch, even if he is a Texas Longhorns fan. Flounders Chowder House is located at 800 Quietwater in Pensacola Beach.

Flounders Chowder House on Urbanspoon

Lunch at The Fish House

Fish House OystersWe spent our first night in Pensacola out on the beach with my brother and sister-in-law, listening to the ocean crash, drinking a few cold ones, and grooving to a soundtrack of Sublime and Gorillaz until the wee hours. Waking up the next day, Jess and I decided to take a quick swim and go get some supplies for that night’s dinner of shrimp and scallops, but we decided that we needed something to get us back up and going after a late night. Best answer when you’re right on the Gulf of Mexico? Eat a bunch of seafood for lunch.

To this end, we traveled to Atlas Oyster House hoping to get a couple of dozen on the half-shell…only to find out that Atlas is only open for dinner. No reason to despair, though — Atlas shares a building with sister restaurant Fish House, and they were open and ready for lunch. We wound up with a pretty good meal with some definite creative touches that would make The Fish House a place we’d definitely recommend.

Like I said, we were in the mood for oysters, but The Fish House doesn’t have them on the menu. Our waitress was nice enough (after spending about 15 minutes discussing workout techniques with the yuppies at the adjacent table) to tell us that she could get us a dozen raw since they were part of the same group as Atlas. The result was an iced-down platter of oysters of which six were decent and the rest were so sandy that we might as well have just eaten a mouthful of the beach. Seriously, if you can’t serve clean oysters, don’t offer them, because grit ruins the experience. Lucky for us, the oysters would be the only low point in the meal.

Fish House Soul RollsTo get the gritty taste of those oysters out of our mouth we ordered some Soul Rolls, described on the menu as a spring roll with collard greens in place of cabbage, served with a creamy mustard sauce and peach chutney. To be perfectly honest, we ordered this appetizer strictly because it was a unique take on spring rolls, and we didn’t expect much. Our expectations were quickly exceeded by this dish, however: crispy wrap, rich tasting greens — and the creamy sauce made a great addition. The peach chutney was sweet, tangy, and spicy all at once, and worked far better with the rolls than we would have thought possible. The chicken seemed to be something of an afterthought, not adding much flavor, but this was still a surprisingly good dish and one that I’d order again. Cabbage in spring rolls normally offers a bright crunch to spring rolls, and the collards in this dish did the opposite — they provided a deep chewy texture and flavor that was quite compelling.

Fish House Shrimp GritsFor our main entree, we went with the Fish House’s “signature” dish, something they call “World Famous Grits a Ya Ya.” This dish was perfection. Creamy smoked Gouda cheese grits topped by a sauce made from creamed spinach, bacon, garlic and shallots; topped further by some excellent grilled jumbo shrimp — it was just perfection. The grits were thick and creamy, redolent with cheese flavor; the sauce was flavorful without overpowering; the shrimp were among the best we’ve had — plump, juicy, and with a seasoned flavor that was simply fantastic. By the end of this dish, we had forgiven the oyster mishap (after all, the oysters weren’t exactly on the menu) and decided that The Fish House was pretty great in our book. As a side note, this shrimp and grits dish was considered a single portion, but we easily split it between two people and left stuffed (the Soul Rolls certainly helped). The Fish House is located at 600 S Barracks St. in Pensacola, and they’re open for lunch and dinner. Happy eating!

The Fish House on Urbanspoon

Spending some time in The Dog House

Dog House ChiliWe may go in for our share of fancy food, but there’s lots of times when only the simple things will do. Amidst running around the white sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast, drinking more than we probably should, and relaxing poolside at our condo, we had to make time for that most important of meals: lunch. And not wanting to break the bank (or drive), we discovered a small deli within walking distance of the Beach Club that specialized in hot dogs called The Dog House Deli. Jess and I both love a good hot dog, whether we’re making them for ourselves or getting them from our favorite local hot dog cart, so we had to give it a try…and then another try. Our final verdict? The Dog House is fantastic cheap beach eats.

My first experience with the place was a Chicago-style dog made with onions, sweet relish, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and celery salt — a very tasty combination. I’m sure that Chicago natives could nitpick this version of their local delicacy to death, but it tasted pretty good to this Arkansas boy.

Even better than the Chicago-style was the chili, cheese, and onion monster you see in the picture above. That’s an 8-inch dog on a soft bun, covered in savory chili, yellow mustard, and just the right amount of chopped onion. Sure, the chili dog isn’t the most inventive way to eat a hot dog, but this version of the classic was one to remember.

photo(43)The best thing I ate a The Dog House, though, wasn’t a hot dog at all — it was a big slab of Polish kielbasa. The sausage was part of the New Orleans-style plate which saw the kielbasa covered in sauerkraut and then doused with thick, rich red beans. Should red beans and rice where the rice is replaced by sausage and kraut on a bun work? Probably not. Did it work? Oh, most definitely. The sausage was spicy, with a nice snappiness to the casing, and the beans were as good as any I’ve had. The kraut added a nice, bright tang to the plate, and the bun was substantial enough to hold everything up, although a fork and knife were necessary to maneuver around this plate of goodness. I paired the beans and sausage plate with a Pensacola Bay Brewery Riptide Amber, which reminded me favorably of a Diamond Bear English Pale. All in all, a top notch lunch for not a lot of money.

The Dog House Deli is located at 35 Via de Luna Drive in Pensacola Beach. It’s not very big, but it will quickly become your go-to place for lunch if you’re in the area.

Dog House Deli on Urbanspoon

Sun, sand, and seafood: the Arkansas Foodies take on the Redneck Riviera

BeachA couple of years ago, Jess and I stayed in Navarre, Florida for a few days with her parents. It was a great trip, and one that we’ve talked about quite a bit since. One of our favorite memories from the Navarre trip was the day we went to Pensacola Beach — we all fell in love with the white sand beaches, restaurants, and the gloomy old ruin of Ft. Pickens. Jess’s mom in particular loves the beach, and I’m a huge fan of preparing and eating seafood, so when it came time to plan another trip to Florida, we were all pretty set on staying on the island and putting those emerald waters right at our back door. We stayed at Beach Club resort and spa, a well-equipped apartment with ample cookware, great appliances, and a balcony that featured a grill. Between runs to the beach, sitting by the pool, and hanging out in the hot tub, we managed to find time to explore the area, go to some good restaurants, and cook some meals for ourselves.

Andrew ShrimpWe stayed this time with Jess’s mom and dad again, but this time her cousin Kevin, brother Andrew, and sister-in-law Ashley were along for the trip — and since we’re fans of saying “the more the merrier,” this was a merry group indeed. We split four of our nights into alternating days of cooking and restaurants, with Jess and I taking one cooking night while Andrew and Ashley took the second — and it was fun to see how other people work in the kitchen. Andrew made up the excellent marinated shrimp skewers seen to the right, and baked some fresh seasoned tilapia to make for a huge spread of “build your own” fish tacos. Everything was so fresh and tasty — it was one of those meals that make you hate getting full because you want to keep eating. Big thanks to our Colorado Millers for bringing it with the seafood: we loved every single bite.

ScallopsFor our dinner, I managed to do something that I’ve never been able to pull off:  cook scallops that didn’t suck. When everyone requested scallops as part of the meal, I had a brief moment of panic — my scallops usually turn out like little rubber balls. But I read up on them and gave it a shot…and they turned out perfect! Chewy, but tender, with a light flavor that had folks raving. Want to do scallops on your own? Just make sure they are VERY dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then sear in a hot skillet for only a minute on each side. We served ours with some garlic kale, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Stick around, because we’ve got lots to share with all of you: oysters, hot dogs, and some unorthodox spring rolls that surprised us with how good they were. Our sunburns are healing and it’s time to get back to work. Cheers!

Beach 3

Tailgating with the master

photo(38)Arkansas is a quirky place, and one of those quirks is our flagship university and sports team, which isn’t anywhere near the populous central part of the state, being tucked away instead way up in the Northwest Corner — closer to Oklahoma than to Little Rock. And while that section of the state has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, there was a time when Fayetteville, Arkansas, home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, was a small place up in the Ozarks that was a real pain in the neck to get to. Even when I first attended the U of A back in the 90s, there was no functioning interstate highway that would get you into Fayetteville — every bit of traffic had to run along a two lane highway that curved through hills. That all changed during my junior year when I-540 opened, and now Fayetteville is a pretty easy trip — but it’s still a long way from the rest of the state.

Because of this quirk of geography, the Arkansas Razorback football teams have traditionally split their home games between Razorback Stadium on campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. They’ve been doing this since 1948, and all the first games I ever saw were at the Markham street stadium here in the Rock. As the University has grown, and as the Northwest part of the state has become an economic powerhouse, Razorback stadium has grown to seat over 70,000 people, while the aging War Memorial still only seats around 50,000. When I was a kid, games were split evenly between the two sites, 3 and 3, which changed to 4 and 2 some years back. The latest blow to Little Rock games was the moving of the marquee Arkansas-LSU matchup to Fayetteville, leaving us with second tier opponents in central Arkansas. Little Rock games are a tradition that is something of an anachronism, and one which is probably on its way out. But you’d never know that by the tailgate party.

photo(37)Here’s how tailgating works in Little Rock: people from all over the state descend on the golf course that is right next to War Memorial stadium. Packed bumper to bumper to bumper, these tens of thousands of people light up their grills, crack open any number of cold ones, and proceed to party for an entire day. We had our first Little Rock game just yesterday, a night game against Samford, and while the game itself wasn’t as good as it should of been (although we still won), the party beforehand was fantastic.

This year, Jess and I were lucky enough to have been invited to the tailgate party thrown by Kelly and Erika Gee, a couple of friends who are known for their ability to throw a barbecue party. I knew Kelly had skills after attending a pig roast he held last fall in North Little Rock, but yesterday’s event was even more exciting due to one thing: Kelly just recently purchased a beautiful, custom made smoker that he funded through Kickstarter. That’s right — while the rest of the internet was getting worked up over Zach Braff and Amanda Palmer, we here in Arkansas knew where our money was going. It was going to the House of Gee.

We live within walking distance of the stadium, and they were pulling ribs from the fire right as we arrived. Three types of ribs yielded three excellent results, with meat that was firm, juicy, and still fall-off-the-bone tender. I’ve eaten ribs a lot of places, and these were easily some of the best I’ve ever had. A pan full of sliced pork tenderloin was flavorful and tasty, and we got there just before the wings ran out — and thank goodness we did, because the smoked wings were out of control good. Other highlights of the party were some of the strongest and tastiest Jello shots I’ve ever had courtesy of Erin Robinson. We weren’t able to stay long, and we missed what was said to be a tremendous pork shoulder, but I’m still happy to have been a part of the first tailgate of the Beastmaster (the consensus name for the smoker) era.

Thanks again to Kelly and Erika for hosting us — we like you guys even more than your barbecue. And we like the barbecue a whole bunch.

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Grill master Kelly Gee