Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shrimp and Grits

As you know from previous posts, I am a person who likes routine.  When cooking for myself, I typically choose from one of five or six healthy, quick and easy-to-make dishes.  One reason I adore having company is that I get to explore and make dishes that I thoughtfully dog-eared in cookbooks or magazines or found on whatever.com….I really do cook to show others that I love them!  

It was M.’s turn to cook on Wednesday and she made Shrimp and Grits.  As difficult as this may be to imagine, I never had Shrimp and Grits before Wednesday. I know, I know, I should be embarrassed by this fact, and I am. But I’m more disappointed because I’ve been missing out on 50+ years of spicy, creamy goodness.  

The South is often called the “Grits Belt."  Grits come to us by way of the Muskogee Tribe — from the Southeastern Woodlands — who would grind corn to a “gritty” texture. This technique was adopted by the American settlers who would often give food allowances, including grits, to their enslaved people.  Wanting to make the most of their local resources, the enslaved people would prepare the grits with shrimp and other fish abundant on the Gulf Coast.  Fast forward 120+ years, in the early 1980’s, a ritzy restauranteur in North Carolina kicked simple Shrimp and Grits up a notch by introducing cheese, bacon and other spices.  Following a visit from the New York Time’s Craig Clairborne, the Shrimp and Grits craze we know today took off.

To add a bit of kick to this dish, M. used “Slap Ya Mama” Cajun spice…a spice — according to the label — that “gives you a loving slap on your back, followed by a ‘fiery’ kiss on the cheek and a desperate plea for water!”  

Before dinner, we nibbled on cheese and sipped wine by the fire.  It was lovely.  

Shrimp and Grits
Adapted from Bobby Flay

Ingredients
Grits
2 cups water
2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup of cream
Salt and pepper
A pinch or two of spicy seasoning
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Shrimp
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of spicy seasoning 
A big splash or two of vermouth, white wine or beer (enough to deglaze, complement the flavors and create a sauce)
Fresh tarragon, chopped (to taste)

Bring water, broth and cream to a boil. Add salt, pepper and spicy seasoning. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.

Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. In grease, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink. Add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the vermouth to create a sauce.

Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Top with the shrimp mixture and sprinkle tarragon on top.  Serve immediately.

For dessert, A. brought a citrus-glazed polenta cake…more on that later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pappardelle with Chicken and Winter Greens

This is a quick post of a recipe too good not to share that I made for Younger Daughter and her visiting foodie friend.   

Make this.

Seriously.

MAKE. THIS.

Please.


Pappardelle with Chicken and Winter Greens

Ingredients
1 bunch (1lb) green Swiss chard
1/2 medium head of radicchio (I used a big handful of arugula)
1 medium lemon (you will use the zest and juice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced (I used 6, minced)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup of dry sherry
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup freshly shredded asiago cheese (I used Parmesan)
3 cups of shredded white chicken 
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces of pappardella pasta

Directions
Cook the pappardelle.  While the pasta is cooking, trim the chard and cut the leaves into 1/3” ribbons.  Peel away the outer leaves of the radicchio and cut out the tough core.  Slice the remaining into 1/3” ribbons.  Zest the lemon and set aside.  Juice the lemon and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high. Add the broth, chard, radicchio and lemon zest.  Turn to coat and cook until chard is just tender to the bite, about 3 minutes.  Add cream, sherry and half the cheese; stir to combine.  Stir in chicken and cook until warmed through.  Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the pan and combine with tongs.  Transfer pasta to the serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve.

Hearty and fresh with a surprising variety of flavors. YUM.  I am told it's just as good, if not better, the next day after the flavors had time to soak into the pasta and chard.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Baked Lemon Chicken

Every now and then we invite a visitor to join us for our Wednesday evening dinners.  We don’t expect them to bring anything, we just periodically like to share our evening with a new face.

The town in which we live is filled with amazing and talented people…. professors, entrepreneurs, entertainers, attorneys, artists (of all types) and authors.  Once such author — a children’s book author — is a mutual friend of ours and we had the pleasure of her company this past Wednesday.  We listened as she delighted us with the antics of some new characters she is developing.  

When you read a book written by an author you know personally, there’s a deeper appreciation for the words, and in this case, the absolutely stunning illustrations that bedazzle the words, like that little critter right over there, Skippyjon Jones.  I envision our dear friend in her studio, pen in hand, wangling inspiration from the world around her all so she can make her readers smile.  

And smile we do.

I live vicariously through such creative people.  It was a joy spending time with her.

And she brought a really good bottle of wine.  

And flowers.

As you read in the Zucchini Brownie post, Younger Daughter has a friend at the University of Delaware who is a bit of healthy foodie and Younger Daughter likes to share her recipes.  As you also read before, I stress when it’s my turn to cook…I ponder for days what to make.  I want to serve something healthy and tasty while being mindful of mixing the menu up from past meals.

So once again I borrowed inspiration from the UDel fledging foodie and made a version of her Lemon Chicken, gussied-up a bit courtesy of The Barefoot Contessa.

Many cultures dish out their own version of lemon chicken.  It’s a standard on any Chinese restaurant menu (along with orange chicken) and in Italy pollo al limone is a roasted whole chicken drizzled with white wine, fresh lemon juice, fresh thyme, celery and onions.  On Wednesday, I served boneless chicken breasts (Target stocks some flavorful organic chicken!), coated with flour, lightly fried and baked in a luscious lemon sauce.

Baked Lemon Chicken
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa and Foodie Friend

Ingredients
Chicken Breasts
4 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded to 1/4”
1 cup of milk
1 cup flour with 1 tablespoon dried oregano mixed in
Butter for frying

Lemon Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (I still have some in my garden; I used lemon thyme)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter (and a bit of olive oil if you’d like) in a large frying pan.  Dredge the chicken breasts in the milk and then the flour/oregano mixture and lightly fry each breast half until golden but not cooked all the way through.

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute (but no brown garlic!). Remove the pan from the stove and add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt and pour mixture into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish and place the fried chicken breasts on top.  Spoon a little sauce on top, cut the lemon into wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for about 25 minutes,until the chicken is done and browned enough. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and then a towel (to keep it warm) and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices.

I served the chicken with Risotto and Peas. Yum.  We had our cobbler dessert in front of the fire...it was a perfectly lovely evening.   Buenas noches, mis amigos!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Homemade Pasta

So, college boys invaded the inner sanctum of Wednesday evening dinner club last week.

Not just any college boys, but C’s son and his buddy.  As you can imagine, the conversation was quite lively and entertaining and, at some point, turned to generations.   I know a little bit about this subject.  There were two distinct generations (possibly three since one of us — not me — is on the cusp between a Boomer and an X-er) sitting around the table and it was interesting to hear their spin on the popular research.   I will tell you this, it is widely believed that the Millennials are a very literate generation, highly influenced by world events and not afraid to speak-up and act on what, to them, is right and just.  I was quite impressed with how these young men articulated their points.

The tuition is working…brought a little tear to my eye. And I got to participate in a generational case study, even though the data was quite limited!

What we did have in common was quite clear…we all devoured the HOMEMADE pasta that C served.  Homemade pasta is a total treat and it doesn’t need to be gussied up with a fancy-schmancy topping so C served it with a simple tomato sauce.  Marcella Hazan — the cookbook author who changed how we prepare Italian food — offers a delicious 3-ingredient version:

INGREDIENTS
2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes)
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt

PREPARATION
Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.

On Wednesday, the sauce was the co-star and the pasta, of course, was the leading lady.  Like Arancini, making homemade pasta is a labor of love but so worth the effort.  

Homemade Pasta

To make plain pasta dough, make a well in the middle of three cups of flour and add three eggs and a little salt. Using a fork, gradually incorporate the eggs into the flour (not all at once!) from the middle working your way out. When pliable, knead the dough until it is a bit elastic and somewhat shiny and bounces back easily when poked. 
Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 15 minutes. My grandmother used to put the dough in a bowl and cover it with a towel…both methods keep it from drying out.
Cut off ¼ of the plain dough, sprinkle it with flour and run it through the pasta machine on gradually thinner settings several times. When running the dough through on the thicker settings, fold it over three times before running it through the pasta machine each time.  To make the pasta you want, pick a setting and run the dough through the pasta machine on that setting.  
Let the newly formed pasta dry for a bit.   

Cook the fresh pasta in 6 quarts of boiling salted water (the rule of thumb is 6 quarts of water for each pound of pasta).  Fresh pasta cooks quickly so in about 1-3 minutes, it will be ready to plate with your favorite sauce.   If you are freezing, sprinkle the pasta with more flour and store in the freezer in freezer bags.

My dear grandmother used to make homemade pasta and that’s her Regina Macaroni Machine you see over there, to the right….she bought it in South Philadelphia, Giunta Brothers at 11th and Christian Streets, shortly after she arrived in the United States in the early 1900's.  The wonderful wooden case you see in the background was lovingly made by my grandfather to preserve her newly acquired apparatus, now my cherished treasure. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

Happy New Year, dear readers!

As I write this post, Younger Daughter is still home for Christmas break.  I love having her here because we do all kinds of things together, including cooking, a little knitting and perhaps some shopping.   

Younger Daughter has a friend from school who posts her food adventures on an Instagram account…she is a bit of a epicure.  Her friend enjoys healthy choices and Younger Daughter (who respects her opinion on such things) often tells me about the dishes her friend made and Younger Daughter has either taste-tested or saw posted on Instagram.  Like these brownies made with zucchini and whole wheat flour. 

Whole wheat flour contains the bran, germ, fiber, vitamins, iron and protein (macronutrients) of the grain and is, of course, a healthy, unprocessed alternative to white flour. Some might think that it doesn’t substitute nicely in baked goods…I don’t agree. I love the earthy, somewhat gritty quality that whole wheat flour adds to baked goods (both sweets and breads) and zucchini adds to the assertion (or is it illusion?) that the decadent fudgy squares might actually be good for you.

This recipe is from the blog Texanerin and Younger Daughter followed it precisely as posted, which I think is a good idea the first time you make anything a little unfamiliar.  These brownies are 100% whole grain, dairy free and applesauce steps in for its fatty counterpart, oil.  The only fat comes from the chocolate and we used the dark, healthier variety.  The zucchini adds moistness.

These beautiful brownies very good, not super sweet.  I played sou chef and grated the zucchini very finely so the vegetable is appropriately disguised among the gooey goodness.  This recipe makes 16 brownies and each square has about 160 calories and 6 grams of fat.

She also made Lemon Chicken, courtesy of her foodie friend.


Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup whole wheat or splet flour
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (we used the fancy kind, Scharffen Berger)
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup dark chocolate chips plus more to sprinkle on top

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line an 8"x8" pan with parchment paper or spray with baking spray.  In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla, coconut sugar, and apple sauce and let this sit for 5 minutes to let the coconut sugar dissolve. In a separate medium bowl, mix together until smooth the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the dry mix to the wet, gently stir until just combined.  Fold in the zucchini and 1 cup chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the pan and even the surface with a spatula.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.


Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature or up to one week in the refrigerator.