February 27, 2011

... Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits

Comfort food is an interesting thing.  Although you can't always remember exactly when, it typically becomes a favorite when you're younger and when you have it in the present day it takes you back to good times leaving you warm and full and happy.   

I'm not sure when I started liking grits.  Sure, I grew up in the South, kind of, but I think I might be the only one in my family who loves grits like I do.  Sweet grits for breakfast?  Sure!  Savory at dinner?  Yes!  So it's no surprise, to me at least, that this recipe caught my eye.

It's probably a love or hate thing for most people - I'm guessing it's the texture.  But for this girl, it's a love love love them give them to me now! thing.

When you add to that shrimp, sauteed in butter and garlic, then tossed with lemon and parsley, well, come on, what could be bad about that?! 

I say 'nothing' except that here I am in my, ahem, thirties, and I've officially found a new favorite comfort food.

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits
serves 4

3/4 cup instant grits
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
2 large garlic cloves, minced
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon, plus wedges for serving
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, covered.  Uncover and slowly whisk in the grits, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the Parmesan and 1 tablespoon butter.  Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.  Cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, season the shrimp with salt and pepper.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp, garlic and cayenne, if using, and cook, tossing, until the shrimp are pink, 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons water, the lemon juice and parsley; stir to coat the shrimp with the sauce and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the grits among shallow bowls and top with the shrimp and sauce.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Taylor's Notes:

As I often do, I halved this recipe so I wouldn't have leftovers for days (shame on me).  Good thing I have extra shrimp so I can make it again later this week.  Hey, don't judge... you'll be doing the same thing.  Although it's really easy to halve, I wouldn't recommend halving the grits.  The smaller portion of grits may thicken way too quickly and not be as smooth as you'd like once you plate the dish.  

The recipe moves so quickly, I would definitely encourage you to have everything prepped before starting anything.  Grate the cheese, mince the garlic, chop the parsley, peel the shrimp... it'll be less hectic and you'll be able to enjoy the dish that much sooner.  And really, you'll want to dig in as soon as possible because it is so.darn.good.


February 21, 2011

... Linguine with Garlic and Oil

I think I've mentioned how much I love Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything cookbook once or twice, yes?  Well, imagine my delight when I discovered that he has an app!  iPhone users, iPad users, app-getters rejoice!  It's absolutely my favorite app to date and, yes, I have Angry Birds.  You can browse recipes, make a shopping list, check out variations, it's fantastic.  No, really...  you should get it.  

Just like everything else I've tried of his, this recipe didn't disappoint.  As you may know, I'm not a big lover of tomato sauce so I'm always up for any pasta that has a lighter sauce.  And, as a special bonus, it works for Meatless Monday!

These fresh, bright green herbs pair perfectly with garlic-infused olive oil with a shake or two of red pepper flakes for an extra kick.

In my book, pasta isn't pasta without fresh grated Parmesan... thank goodness dairy-free week is over!

Still in moderation, though, and a little Parm goes a long way.  Sprinkle it over the hot pasta and serve it with multi-grain bread fresh from the oven (even if it's straight from a store-bought bag into the oven).  Hey, it's a weeknight, what do you expect?

Linguine with Garlic and Oil
serves 4

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 tablespoons minced garlic
hot red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
1 pound long, thin pasta like linguine or spaghetti
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Put the oil, garlic, the pepper flakes if you're using them, and a pinch of salt in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat.  Let the garlic sizzle a bit, shaking the pan occasionally, just until it turns golden, about 3 minutes.  Turn off the heat if the pasta isn't ready.

Cook the pasta until it is tender but not mushy.  When it is done, drain it, reserving a bit of the cooking water.  Reheat the garlic and oil mixture briefly if necessary.  Dress the pasta with the sauce, adding a little more oil or some of the cooking water if it seems dry.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, then toss with the parsley if you're using it.

Taylor's Notes:
I took Mark's variation of adding fresh herbs.  He notes to use about 1 cup of whatever fresh herbs you choose.  I used about 3/4 cup of fresh parsley and less than a cup each of basil, oregano, and chives.  I'm guessing that I had more than one cup total, but it just adds to the flavor of the pasta.  Add the herbs to the oil mixture after it is done.  The herbs will soak up most of the oil, so you'll definitely want to add more to the pasta when you dress it.  I also toasted some pine nuts and added those to the pasta for a little crunch.


February 19, 2011

... Chicken and Bok Choy Stir-Fry

Here we are, dairy-free day 7.  I'm surprised, it's really been pretty easy.  I haven't cheated once.  Shocker, I know.  Now, don't get all freaked out, I'll be bringing cheese back, but most likely in limited quantities and mostly so that I can cook all these fab recipes I've been finding.  Isn't that always the case - when you can't have something it's all over the place?  Anyhoo, look forward to that.  But for now - a great, easy cheese-free one for you to try...

Although I'm a fan of bok choy, this is the first time I've ever cooked with it.  Next time I'll definitely look a little harder for baby bok choy as the full-grown version was a little overwhelming for this particular recipe.

The soy sauce / barbecue sauce / scallion mixture added a great tangy flavor to the chicken and choy.  

It's not the most beautiful of dishes, but the flavor made up for that.  It's also a pretty healthy dish and, as we're heading into swimsuit season, that's never a bad thing.

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir-Fry
serves 4

1 cup long-grain white rice (or brown rice, like I did)
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
kosher salt and black pepper
4 heads baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup store-bought barbecue sauce
4 scallions, thinly sliced

Cook the rice according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes.  Transfer to a plate.

Add the bok choy and 1/4 cup water to the skillet.  Cover and cook until the bok choy is just tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, barbecue sauce, and scallions.  Add to the skillet and bring to a boil.  Return the chicken to the skillet and cook, tossing, just until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.  Serve with the rice.

Taylor's Notes:
I halved this recipe where the chicken and bok choy are concerned, but kept the full amount of soy sauce, barbecue sauce, and scallions.  I'd definitely do that again as it adds great flavor and I felt like it really pumped up the chicken and veggies.  

Interestingly enough, one note of mine was going to be to reduce the amount of water that you use to steam the bok choy.  I thought 1 cup was way too much and it really thinned out the soy/barbecue/scallion sauce.  Funny enough, as I was typing this recipe above I realized I should have only used 1/4 cup of water.  Oops.  That'll teach me to pour a glass of wine while trying to read a recipe...  Lesson Learned.

I couldn't find baby bok choy, so ended up just using a few stalks of mama bok choy... baby would be much better, but hey, you do with what you can.  Right?  If you have to use mama bok choy, too, just cut the stalks down into thirds or fourths to get the pieces into a more manageable size.


February 14, 2011

... Meatless Mondays and Who's Got Milk? (not me!)

Hey there, kids!  As you may have seen here, I'm starting a new run on the ol' blogaroo... Meatless Mondays!  Blame it on me needing some new inspiration or, perhaps, Oprah.  Either way, it should be a good challenge for us all.  And, seeing as how 'sweets' is falling in line as number one in the labels category these days, it can't hurt to focus on something a little better for us.  Right?

In addition to Meatless Mondays, I've decided to go dairy-free for a week.  I'm on Day 2 and, I have to say, so far so good.  I didn't even try one of these yesterday.  I know, gasp!  Today I had soy in my latte instead of milk.  No biggie.  No goat cheese on my salad... yeah, that hurt a little, but I never said this was going to be easy.

Now, I'm not trying to kid myself here.  I'm definitely going to need to add cheese back in at some point... at least on Mondays.  Do you know how hard it is to find a good recipe that's both meatless and cheese-less?!  It just might be in the form of shavings instead of chunks.

So, here we go... look forward to lots of new recipes!  And, I'll apologize in advance for any crazy 'show me the ice cream!!!' rants I may have over the next seven days.

... Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Hi bloggies!  Welcome to our very first Meatless Monday!  Based on the image below, I think we're going to do just fine.  Who else loves fresh veggies and herbs?

Especially when you saute them with lots of great spices and add black beans...

... then serve it with rice and tortilla chips (and, yeah ok, a cold beer)... hey, no one said this was Carb-less Monday!

Cuban Black Beans and Rice
serves 4

1 cup long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 15.5-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 radishes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Cook the rice according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the cumin and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beans, oregano, and 1 cup water.  Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Add the vinegar.  Smash some of the beans with the back of a fork to thicken.  Serve over the rice.  Top with the radishes and cilantro.

Taylor's Notes:

Meatless Monday Numero Uno and we're off to a good start.  No, I wasn't super thrilled about using the obvious meatless ingredient for my first Meatless Monday recipe, but hey you do what you can.  Don't get me wrong, I love black beans.  I just didn't think they were all that inspiring.  Anyhoo... it's a tasty little number and I definitely recommend it.  Just don't think it's all I have up my sleeve.

Per the reviews on the original recipe, I added more spice to battle the "blandness" that my other home chefs discovered.  So, along with the cumin, which I added a tad bit more of, I added hot mexican chili powder.  I also doubled the amount of red wine vinegar and oregano.  That pretty much did the trick , but definitely add your own spin to it.  Loved the bright, cool crunch of the radishes and cilantro.


February 13, 2011

... Whoopee Pies

Chocolate and Buttercream.  What could be more perfect for a holiday surrounded by sweets?

Moist, fluffy, chocolate cake...

plus rich, decadent buttercream frosting (pink or not... that's your choice).

Because who doesn't need a little whoopee... especially on the holiday of love.

Whoopee Pies
makes 20ish pies

1 package Devil's Food cake mix
1 4-ounce package Instant Chocolate Pudding mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
4 eggs
1 cup water

12 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 cup marshmallow creme
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make pies, combine ingredients in a large bowl with electric mixer.  Beat on low until moistened, then on medium for 2 minutes until light and thick.  Drop by heaping tablespoons of batter 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.  Pies will be 3" in diameter after baking.  Bake 15 minutes or until pies spring back when lightly touched.  Cool pies completely.

Combine filling ingredients in a large bowl and beat 2 minutes with an electric mixer on high, until light and fluffy.  Spread filling on the flat side of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies to make sandwiches.

Taylor's Notes:
I make these about once a year, hence the heart-shaped cakes and pink buttercream frosting.  Clearly, you can make them 'normally' and leave them round.  But I think they're pretty darn cute as hearts, no?

Enjoy... and Happy Valentine's Day!

February 6, 2011

... Tortellini, Spinach and Basil Soup

With the exception of the stewed tomatoes, there are a lot of my favorite things in this soup.  Mushrooms, spinach, basil, cheese tortellini... yes, please!  And, as much of a fan that I'm not, the tomatoes add so much flavor to the soup that I definitely wouldn't leave them out.

I love the addition of the red pepper flakes.  I love it so much that I doubled the amount.  Spicy?  Yes.  A good decision?  Absolutely.

The bright color that the spinach and basil add is great.  Don't be afraid to bump up the amount of them either.  I did.

Freshly grated Parm is a must and, you know me, soup is always better with warm, crusty bread along side.

Tortellini, Spinach and Basil Soup
serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
3 (15 ounce) cans chicken stock
1 (15 ounce) can stewed Italian-style tomatoes, undrained
1 (9 ounce) package cheese tortellini (fresh or frozen)
1 to 2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach leaves
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
garnish: freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy pan over medium heat, heat oil.  Add onion, garlic and mushrooms.  Saute until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add crushed red pepper and saute for a few seconds until fragrant.  Add chicken stock and tomatoes; bring to a boil.  Add tortellini then return to a low boil and cook 5 minutes or until pasta is done.  Stir in spinach, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, then add fresh basil and simmer for a minute or two.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with freshly shredded Parmesan cheese.

Variation: It is nice to add 3/4 pound of Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled, browned and drained.  Add to the soup when adding the vegetables.

Taylor's Notes:
This is one tasty soup!  And quick and easy, to boot!  I don't have much to note - just follow the directions and you'll be enjoying it in no time!


February 2, 2011

... Mini Mac and 'Schrooms

If 'Snowmaggedon 2011' has taught me anything, it's this:

  1. I can last about 30 hours in my house before I go stir crazy.  No, that's not true.  I go stir crazy at 24 hours.  At 30 hours I must.get.out.of.the.house.  Now.
  2. I am both proud of myself and annoyed with myself for not keeping chocolate in the house.  It would have been eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  3. When I'm stir crazy and craving chocolate, I must have comfort food.

For me, today, that was mushroom mac n' cheese in the creamiest, cheesiest sauce and a serving size that I am ashamed of.  But, man, was it good.

And, really, mushrooms are good for you.  And so is indulging... every now and then.

If you were caught in Snowmaggedon 2011 (which I'm guessing you were considering it covered more than half of the United States) I hope you survived, stayed warm, and indulged in whatever makes you happy.

Mini Mac and 'Shrooms
serves 8

kosher salt
1 pound mezzi rigatoni
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound wild mushrooms, such as oyster or shitake, stemmed and sliced
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
8 ounces taleggio or brie cheese, rind removed, cubed (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 ounces pecorino cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/4 cup cooking water.

Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a paste.  Cook, stirring, until the paste puffs slightly, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking.  Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce is creamy, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of the mushrooms and cook until soft, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt.  Push to the side of the pan and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.

Reduce the heat under the sauce to low and whisk in both cheeses until smooth.  Stir in the mushrooms and pasta and toss; adding the reserved cooking water as needed.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the breadcrumbs and toast until golden; stir in the parsley.  Divide the pasta among 8 small bowls.  Garnish with the breadcrumb mixture.

Taylor's Notes:
Based on the number of dirty pans and utensils I had, you would think this recipe took me hours to make.  It was actually very quick and for that reason, I recommend you have everything prepped before starting.  Clean and slice your 'shrooms, cube and grate your cheese.  If you do that, you won't forget to brown the breadcrumbs and add some of the pasta water to the sauce.  Oh sure, it'll all taste really good, but just think how much better toasty, crunchy breadcrumbs would taste.

Anyhoo... prep.  That's all I'm saying.  

I used cremini and shitake mushrooms.  I'm not sure I've ever cooked with shitake mushrooms before, and I think I prefer cremini.  But, that's the beautiful thing about cooking...

... make it your own and Enjoy!

February 1, 2011

... Cappuccino Crinkles

I do love coffee.  Espresso, Cappuccino, Folgers.  If it has caffeine, I'm a fan.  So it should come as no surprise that I like to bake with it, too.  

Here's a random (but fun!) fact: I tied for first place in a holiday cookie exchange party with these cookies.  I know, I'm big time.  So when I was looking for a treat to take to work, these little gems came to mind.  And, in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee... they were gone.

Cappuccino Crinkles
makes 32 cookies

1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites
1/3 cup vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee granules, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Beat until combined, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally.  Beat in egg whites and yogurt until combined.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in the remaining flour with a wooden spoon.

Place granulated sugar in a small bowl.  Drop dough by heaping teaspoons into sugar and roll into balls.  Roll again in sugar.  Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool.

Taylor's Notes:
This is the strangest cookie dough... somewhat dry, but very dense.  Definitely use an electric mixer unless you're trying to pump up those biceps.

I think these taste much better the day after... and certainly if you enjoy them with a little coffee or hot chocolate!