At the beach... Seafood and More!

It seems like forever since we were enjoying our luxury vacation for Molly and Bridget's birthday, but it has only been a month. Food is central to our family, and so planning the food for our beach getaway was as important as who was invited and what we would do. Vacation meal planning takes a little extra work since whether you vacation in resort areas or in the wilds, often ethnic ingredients, exotic spices, fresh herbs and produce, and meat or seafood can be hard to find or expensive and you may not want to duplicate certain staples like spices, olive oil, etc. that you already have at home.

Even if you don't usually make a list, if you are planning for food on a trip, this is a time when you should do so. I start with menus for each meal, deciding what we will have each day,but also incorporating some additional choices like cereals and bagels for breakfast and sandwich fixin's for lunch in case we just don't feel like cooking. This helps me organize my shopping list and deciding what to take and what to buy at our destination. Meat and seafood that I know will be priced at a premium I plan to take with me, buying flash-frozen e-z peel shrimp, sea scallops, beef tenderloin, sashimi-grade tuna and specialty meats like prosciutto. I have a vacuum sealer that makes it easy to prep these items for transport in my cooler. (Tip: I always keep several water bottles in my freezer for use at the bottom of my cooler. I use them to provide a basis for my other frozen goods in the cooler, and when you get where you are going, you have icy cold water to drink!) Go through your menu and note what you will need to prepare each dish and whether ingredients might be available to buy where you are (chicken, steaks, ground beef, ribs,etc.), what spices and condiments will you need, and make decisions to take or buy based both on availability and on space available in your vehicle

For this trip we knew that we wanted to do a "seafood feast" for our Saturday dinner. Bridget's boss, Chad Martin at Create Bistro helped us procure some great sea scallops (seared scallops based on Chad's recipe has become Bridget's signature dish), seaweed salad , several loaves of fresh bread and some northern Blue Point oysters . Katie's friend wanted to make tostones,or fried plantains, and I had a special request from my Florida daughter, Colleen, to make the hot beans- a recipe I posted here early on and one that Epicurious Editor Tanya Steele actually tried. Because we knew there would be a lot of cooking (and a lot of people) on Saturday, we chose to do frozen lasagna (Horrors!), salad and bread for our first night to allow us time to arrive, get settled, and then actually have some fun! This turned out to be a great strategy, since that was the only sunny (meaning not raining with gale-force winds!) day of our stay.

Molly and Kate had selected a luau theme (family and friends eating, right) for the birthday dinner so while food prep went on in the kitchen, Molly decorated with leis and shells , and latecomer guests still arriving in the midst of a nor'easter. The kitchen the next day reminded me a bit of the famous scene in The Big Chill, only with cooking instead of cleaning up- lots of music, noise, laughter, and lots of dirty pots and pans! The result was indeed a feast. And the bonus for me, Colleen organized the non-cookers into a KP cleanup party that would put the most hardened drill sergeant to shame, cleaning the counters, loading the two dishwashers, and in no time we were all playing spoons and shooting pool.

It was hard to pick a star from this meal- the Blue Point oysters had a tasty salinity that really added to the seaside atmosphere. Chad had given us some seaweed to shock (just like blanching) and to use to plate the oysters with(see left). The seaweed had these little pockets along the stem that held a salty liquid that could be squeezed onto the steamed oysters, making it both pretty and delicious. Bridget's seared scallops with a butter, shallot sauce were truly outstanding, and the hot beans were a big hit since we had not had them in awhile.

As usual, the occasion was made even more special by delicious food prepared with care and love in a fun (crazy!) environment for a birthday and a meal that we won't forget for a longtime to come!

Twice Fried Beans (first posted December 28,2008)
(Serves 6 as part of a Chinese meal or 2 Dowds)

1 1/2 lbs of fresh green beans with ends removed
1 lb reduced fat or lean bulk sausage
1/2 cup brown bean paste
1 tbsp sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp chili and garlic paste (add this a quarter tsp at a time till you get to the spiciness you want)

3 cups vegetable or peanut oil for frying

Heat oil until a cube of bread browns easily, but doesn't burn. In several batches, fry beans until skins blister, but don't let them brown. Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Meanwhile brown the sausage in a pan, breaking up the meat, until all pink is gone. Add brown bean paste, sugar , lime juice and chili paste to taste (my family likes hot, but you may not want yours quite so hot). Once sauce is the way you like it, stir in the beans and keep hot until serving.

Bridget's "Create Counterfeit" Seared Scallops

A simple yet impressive company dish. As with all seafood, start fresh and be careful not to over cook.

2-3 sea scallops per serving
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbsp butter

Prepare your scallops by patting dry and if it hasn't already been removed (most seafood markets already do this), remove the little muscle that attached the scallop to its shell -it looks almost like a little tab, and will get tough during cooking. Sprinkle both sides lightly with coarse-ground salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat butter in pan till melted and set the scallops in the pan to sear for about 2 1/2 minutes per side, and remove to a serving plate. Like all seafood, be very careful not to overcook. Serve with Tarragon-Butter Sauce.

Tarragon-Butter Sauce
Makes enough sauce for eight servings of scallops

1 stick butter
5-6 shallots finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
2-3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 small squeeze of fresh lemon

Melt butter in saucepan and add shallots, cooking until they are transparent. Add white wine and tarragon, whisking until incorporated. Before serving, add a squeeze of lemon and stir. Serve over seared scallops.


Kristen said…
Oh I wish I was there...your pictures and your post make me long for a vacation! What fun!
Deborah said…
This sounds like so much fun!! My family is much the same - so much is centered around the food. We often will all rent a cabin in the winter, and the fun part is planning all of the food!
Genevieve said…
Wow! What amazing organizational and planning skills! I would have been lucky if I remembered to bring my shucking knife :)

Thanks for visiting Bribe Me with a Muffin!
Deborah Dowd said…
Kristen-The more the merrier!

Deborah- We have just started doing mini-vacations in the winter, and there is a whole reperatoire of dishes for that!

Genevieve- It is not a natural but a learned skill! I enjoyed your blog very much and am sure to return!
lilyng said…
what you wrote is so true. how exciting it will be if we food bloggers can meet.

thanks for dropping by my blog.

you write so well and i bet you cook better.
Genevieve said…
Hi Deborah,
By the way, I really love your writing on Play with Food, and was wondering if you would be interested in having a few of your posts featured on the home page of the new food-centric website eatNation (

Please email me if you are interested!

Fearless Kitchen said…
So many great recipes... I'm really looking forward to making the green beans with sausage. It's a great idea and probably tastes fabulous.

I know what you mean about requiring extra planning. When we go camping it's always a bit of a problem. We try to buy what we need once we've arrived and settled in, but oddly enough the grocery stores out by where we camp don't stock sumac... or rosewater... or dried limes...
huggingthecoast said…
Sounds like you had an amazing feast!
Deborah Dowd said…
lilyng- Thanks so much for your great comments. It is nice to hear that someone likes what I do!

Genevieve- Thanks for the compliment, and I would love any way to reach more readers.

Fearless Kitchen-Let me know how the beans turn out- Tanya Steele of Epicurious made them and really liked them!

Hugging the coast- It was really a wonderful time and the food was a big part of the fun!
Keith said…
I'd have to say that Seafood is definately my family's favorite, and I have come across this great place, and it doesn't matter where you live, they ship it right to you. Its flash frozen so its the freshest, I urge anyone to check em out, they also have killer prices: