Friday, March 31, 2006

Spicy Shrimp with Corn Griddle Cakes

After some truly masterful thrifty grocery shopping yesterday, I was able to pick up the ingredients I was lacking for three nice dinners (one of which will be a fancy egg sandwich, but still). This recipe is almost 100% Rachael Ray, which used to really embarrass me to admit, but I'm working through my issues.

When it comes down to it, Ray's recipes are often pantry-friendly (I only had to buy $4 worth of shrimp and a $.49 can of corn for this), and rarely call for spices that I don't already have. Gourmet cooking it may not be, but when you are broke and trying to stretch a dollar, her magazine features lots of good recipes. This one comes from the February/March issue.

I know I said these weren't gourmet, but I can't help but think how cute mini-corn griddle cakes with just one or two shrimp on top would be for a party.

Spicy Shrimp with Corn Griddle Cakes
serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are

for the griddle cakes:

1 15-oz. can cream-style corn
4 Tbsp butter, melted
2 large eggs
.25 cup granulated sugar*
1 cup all-purpose flour
.5 tsp sea salt
.5 tsp baking soda

*I did not add the sugar and found that the corn was sweet enough on it's own. Your mileage may vary.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients well with a whisk. Set aside.

for the shrimp:

1 lb. large shrimp, shell-on
2.5 cups water
.25 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp Cajun seasoning*
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 scallions, finely chopped

*I did not have this Cajun seasoning Ray calls for, so I improvise with Chili powder, powdered onion and garlic, and sea salt. Worked great for me.

Peel the shrimp and place the shells in a saucepan with the water and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half--about 10 minutes. Strain and discard shells, set aside.

While broth is boiling, toss shrimp with Cajun seasoning. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it is shimmering, then sprinkle in the flour. Cook the oil and flour mixture (your roux), stirring constantly, until a deep golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Add scallions, garlic, and a drizzle more of oil and cook, continuing to stir, for 2 more minutes.

Whisk the reserved shrimp broth into the roux and boil for one minute to thicken. Add the shrimp and toss in the sauce for 2 minutes, then cover, remove from heat, and set aside.

Heat a non-stick griddle over medium heat (if you only have one large non-stick pan, transfer the shrimp to a bowl and wipe the pan clean). Working in batches, pour heaping .25 cups of batter onto the griddle, giving the pan a little shake to flatten them somewhat. Cook until they are a deep golden color and bubbles are rising to the surface, then flip. Repeat with remaining batter.

Stir your shrimp and taste to adjust for seasoning (I needed to add salt at this point). Serve griddle cakes with shrimp and sauce spooned over the top. We had corn cakes leftover, so I ate them for breakfast--they were really good! I will definitely make this recipe again.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Artichoke-Stuffed Eggplant

Night before last Chris had band practice, and so in lieu of a big dinner I made myself a nice bowl of Lemon Risotto (substituting a shallot for the leek). While I stirred and stirred the creamy rice, I reflected on the time when an evening alone meant popcorn and television for dinner. I guess I'm really changing my attitude towards food--it's not just something to make to share with another person, it's something to feed and nurture your own self. I still watched some TV, though. Not everything changes.

Last night I was nearly sure I wouldn't have anything to write about, certainly no new recipe. We have almost no food in the house, and lacking the funds for a big grocery trip, I was nearly sure we were heading for fried egg sandwiches, which is fine, but nothing worth sharing with you guys. And then, what did I spy? A rogue eggplant in the vegetable drawer, completely forgotten about but miraculously unscathed. After a quick survey of the nearly bare pantry, I was able to cobble together this dish--half Nigella Lawson's Soft and Sharp Involtini, and half my own creation.

How was it? I don't know, but Chris liked it. By the time I was done with all of the slicing, sauteing, rolling, etc. I had developed a sour stomach feeling and ended up laying down on the couch and not eating dinner! The meal looked lovely, though, and I think it would make a very nice side dish to a roasted piece of meat. I will say, though, that I am as sick of Italian-inspired dishes as I am of baking right now.

Artichoke-Stuffed Eggplant
serves 2-3

for the sauce:

1 14-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch or two dried oregano
pinch or two dried basil
dash sugar
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet with a lid. Add garlic and shallot and saute until soft, 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes and spices, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Using a food processor or blender, puree about .75 of the tomato mixture--you're looking for a slightly chunky sauce. Add back to the pan, stir to combine, and set aside.

for the stuffing:

1 medium eggplant
oil for frying
half a can of artichoke hearts, chopped
2 Tbsp bulgar wheat
dried oregano
dried basil
1 egg
.25 cup feta cheese crumbles (more for topping)
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Slice the eggplant in thin slices from stem to tip. Discard the two slices with the skin side out. Heat a good layer of oil in a saute pan to near smoking. Working in batches, fry the eggplant slices on each side until beginning to brown. You will need to add more oil periodically, as the eggplant will soak it up. Drain eggplant on several layers of paper toweling for at least half an hour.

Place bulgar wheat, and a pinch each of the basil and oregano, in a small bowl. Pour boiling water generously over the mixture and then cover with a plate. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes. After it has soaked and plumped up, pour into a fine meshed sieve and let drain. Before mixing with the rest of the stuffing, press to remove as much water as possible.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine chopped artichoke, wheat, feta cheese, egg, and herbs in a bowl, mix well with a fork. Lay a slice of eggplant in front of you, with the fatter, bulbous end closest to you. Using an ice cream scooper or a large spoon, place a dollop of the stuffing at the end near you (it will be loose). Carefully roll the eggplant over--you will likely need to replace stuffing as it falls out. Gently place in a small baking pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices--you are doing well to get six good rolls out of one eggplant.

Pour tomato sauce evenly over eggplant rolls. Sprinkle generously with feta cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving, it shouldn't be piping hot. Maybe I should test my stomach and go try the leftovers out, this is sounding pretty good!

Stay tuned tonight to see if I make something out of nothing. I can't wait to get past end of the month expenses and have the money for a big grocery trip!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Garlic Basil Hearthbread

I know. I know what I said about being done with dough. However, when faced with the choice of baking some sort of bread to go with tonights thrown together dinner, or trudging out to the store to buy something inferior, it seemed really stupid to not just make something.

And so, I went with something I have at least been looking forward to making, Nigella Lawson's Garlic Parsley Hearthbreads. I made some changes, like using basil instead of parsley, and even ended up tweaking the basic structure of the recipe a bit--I love Nigella, but I have found that her bread recipes are not always very clear. No worries, though, because the end result was fantastic: chewy, garlicky, deliciously savory bread, a perfect highlight to an otherwise lackluster meal.

Garlic Basil Hearthbread
serves 4-6

1 packet active dry yeast
1.5 cups warm water
pinch sugar
3.5-4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sea salt
5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for topping
3 medium heads garlic
handful basil leaves, chopped

Mix yeast, sugar and warm water together in a warmed mixing bowl. Add 3.5 cups flour, salt, and olive oil and use a dough hook attachment to mix for 1 minute on speed 2. Continue kneading, adding additional flour if the dough is too sticky. Knead for 5-6 minutes.

Form dough into a ball (it will be soft and slightly sticky), and place in oiled bowl, turning to coat top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top of each garlic head off, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap loosely in aluminum foil, sealing edges well. Roast for 45 minutes (the top of your stovetop will be a nice warm place for dough rising). Remove from foil and let cool.

Once dough has risen, punch down and let sit for 10 more minutes. Divide dough in half. Roll each half of dough into a rough oval shape on parchment paper. Place each piece of parchment with the rolled dough on a baking sheet, cover and let rise for an additional 25 minutes, until puffy. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and let preheat for a good while--this tip came from Kevin at Seriously Good, and I think it really helped--thanks, K!

Squeeze roasted garlic into a bowl (it should be very soft). Using a fork, mix in basil and enough olive oil to make a paste. Using your fingers, make several indentations on each loaf of flatbread. Spread the garlic mixture evenly over each loaf. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bread is a light golden brown and the garlic is a deeper golden color. If your baking sheets will not fit on the same shelf in the oven, rotate the two sheets halfway through baking. Sprinkle with salt right out of the oven.

Serve warm with any number of dishes. We enjoyed this fragrant yeasty wonder with grilled sausages, caramelized onions, and grilled tomatoes--wonderful

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cremini, Eggplant, and Escarole Saute

Cate at SweetNicks hosts a weekly food blogging event called ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday, which focuses on bringing more Antioxidant-Rich Foods (ARFs) to your dining table every day. I always work to incorporate at least one vegetable side dish or main course to all of our dinners, but I've never submitted a recipe...until now.

I did some homework on today's three main ingredients--escarole, eggplant, and cremini mushrooms--and I was happy to find that each is a source of one or more vital antioxidants. As we should all know by now, antioxidant-rich foods are thought to slow the chemical process of oxidation, which can lead to cholesterol deposits, the narrowing of arteries, and other various heart-related problems. The best way to add antioxidants to your diet is not through vitamin supplements, but through the many delicious fruits and vegetables they are found in.

This is a simple, flavor and texture-full dish that has an Asian flair. We had this tonight alongside Chris' favorite Crispy Shrimp, served with its sauce on the side, for dipping.

I typically eat escarole raw, in salads, but it is getting harder to find the small, tender, less bitter heads as the weather gets warmer. Wilting the escarole helps foil the bitter flavor, and the sturdy leaves hold up to heat well.

Cremini, Eggplant, and Escarole Saute
serves 4

heaping cup eggplant, coarsely chopped
1 medium head escarole
6 oz cremini (Baby Bella) mushrooms
olive oil
toasted sesame oil
crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
soy sauce
sea salt

Toss eggplant generously with salt, and set aside. Wash and dry the escarole, removing the core and tough outer leaves. Slice into large, coarse pieces. Brush mushrooms clean, then slice.

Rinse the eggplant well in a colander to remove salt, pat dry. Heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large, non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add eggplant, and another splash of olive oil, if necessary. Saute for about 5 minutes, until beginning to brown and release liquids.

Add escarole to pan and drizzle with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Toss well to coat and mix with mushrooms and eggplant. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and cook until escarole is wilting. Serve with a wedge of lemon alongside, if desired.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sweet and Savory Balsamic Poached Chicken

After last week's successful venture into the world of poaching, I have been thinking about trying it again with a new combination of flavors. After doing some research, I decided that balsamic vinegar would make a good flavor base, much like the white wine was last time. The result? Lovely caramel-colored chicken, filled with flavor with no added fat. I'm starting to really like this poaching thing. It's so easy and nearly fool-proof.

Sweet and Savory Balsamic Poached Chicken
serves 2

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets
1.5 cups chicken stock
.5 cup balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Bring stock and vinegar up to a boil in a medium (2 quart) saucepan, add chicken, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15-18 minutes, turning once (cooking time will depend on thickness of chicken). Remove chicken from pan, set aside. Turn heat up to high, add brown sugar, and reduce cooking liquid to about .25 cups. Slice chicken thickly, spoon some pan sauce over, and serve.

We had this with Herbed New Potatoes and some pan seared asparagus. The spring asparagus is making its first appearances, and I really encourage you to pick some up and pair it with nearly anything. It was a really simple, easy meal with lots of complimentary flavors.

Herbed New Potatoes

There is something to be said for simplicity when dealing with especially fresh or perfect specimens, such as the incredibly tiny baby Dutch yellow potatoes I found at the market this week. Have you ever seen such small, perfect potatoes? I have never been so tempted to pop one in my mouth raw, even though I know that no potato is worth eating raw.

I wanted to play up the perfection of each teeny tuber, so I decided that roasting them whole, with a slick of oil and a sprinkling of herbs from the garden would be ideal. Which brings us to our Weekend Herb Blogging feature: Lemon Balm.

I admit, I only planted lemon balm in my kitchen garden because it smells so delightful. I had no idea how it could be used in cooking, other than a vague idea that you can make a calming tea out of it. It turns out that while Lemon Balm does make a wonderful tea (it has a mild sedative effect and aids digestion), it also can be used sparingly to add a bright, citrusy flavor to many dishes, both savory and sweet. It worked very well with a mix of herbs in last weekend's white bean dip, and so I am inspired to learn more about it, and use it with these gorgeous potatoes.

Lemon balm is in the same family as mint, meaning it is hardy and will take over your garden if you let it. It's aromatic leaves are even similar to mint, but with a more rounded shape. It does flower in late summer, but the blooms aren't particularly attractive. However, these blooms have their advantages--they attract bees and will aid pollination in your garden.

This fragrant herb will add a lemony tang to any recipe it is added to, and I have even seen recipes that say you can substitute it for fresh lemon juice in some cases. For this recipe, I chopped two leaves with a variety of other herbs, and it asserted itself nicely without being overpowering. As my plants get bigger and the weather warms up, I can't wait to continue experimenting.

Herbed New Potatoes

a few handfuls of the tiniest potatoes you can find
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped assorted herbs, such as:
  • chives
  • lemon balm
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • mint

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter and olive oil in a small baking dish and stick in oven to melt butter and heat dish. Wash potatoes and let dry. Once the butter has melted, remove baking dish from oven. Toss potatoes in oil, and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to evenly coat.

Roast potatoes until their skins start to blister and a fork easily pierces them (40-45 minutes, depending on size). Remove from oven and toss with herbs until well coated. I think you will find the herbs play off of each other in a lovely way--the citrusy Lemon Balm, faint oniony Chives, astringent Rosemary, brisk Mint, and mellow Thyme coming together to bring out the best in your perfect, tiny potatoes. Enjoy!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Homemade Pizzas

I think I have reached my dough limit. As a third installment to "Face Your Baking Fears" week, I decided to make homemade pizzas last night, and everything worked perfectly, but I'm just kind of over it. After making bread and then pie crust this week, I think I just don't want to look at flour for a little while. But even though I was overcome with dough apathy, these pizzas were tasty and well received.

Were these the charred, chewy, thin crusted pizzas that dreams are made of? No, they weren't. The crust wasn't right and my oven isn't hot enough anyway. But were they good, basic, crisp crusts with delicious toppings? Indeed they were. However, once I get over my ennui I know I will need to tinker with the crust recipe a bit. For a basic crust, though, it is reliable and easy to make.

Basic Pizza Dough
serves 3-4

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
.5 tsp salt
pinch sugar
2 tsp olive oil
2.5-3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornmeal

Warm your mixing bowl, then dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt, sugar, olive oil, and 2.5 cups of flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to a stand mixer, turn on speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour gradually, and mix until the dough clings to the hook and cleans the sides of the mixing bowl, about 2 minutes. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes longer.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Brush a pizza pan or baking sheet with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Press dough across the bottom of the pan, forming a "collar" of sorts around the edge to hold toppings. I wanted to make two smaller pizzas, and as you see that worked out fine--just divide dough in half and proceed accordingly.

Add toppings as you wish. I pureed a mixture of marinara and plain tomato sauce, because I like my sauce thin. Chris' pizza had eggplant (pre-roasted to soften), mushrooms, pepperoni, and mozzarella. My pizza had eggplant, mushrooms, kalamata olives, feta, and mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes, brushing a little olive oil in the crust edges halfway through.

Both pizzas were crunchy and fresh, just the way we like them, even if the dough was somewhat uninspired. And so ends the baking, for a little while at least. My mixer is tired, and so am I.