Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dill Shrimp and Mushrooms: No Small Feat

Poor dill, eternally confined to pickle seasonings. Tonight I sprung him from that stereotypical prison and together we wrecked delicious havoc on my shrimp and mushrooms. Our accomplices were few; admittedly, dill did most of the work. So, you might want to rethink your preconceptions about his “pickle past”; dill’s influence is sure to grow in your kitchen after your first few encounters.
Dill has a very aromatic smell and a grassy, crisp taste, with some lemon, caraway or even pine aftertastes. It is best used in its fresh ferny form I am told. However, when your budget for herbs and spices is limited, a tiny bottle of dried dill will serve you well. Also, while we are on the topic of fresh foods, I also used frozen shrimp even though the ‘fresh’ ones were on sale. Why? Well, first off because I have developed a bad habit of letting fresh things go bad because I buy too much food on a regular basis. Second, frozen shrimp is flash frozen when caught. You could think of these shrimp in a state of suspended…freshness? Maybe that’s pushing it. The point is that they taste the same, but are usually cheaper and stay longer in the freezer. There is no “use ‘em or lose ‘em” game.
The recipe itself is simple. The cooking process, however, can get a bit tricky. Overcooking mushrooms or shrimp can turn light delicacies to pieces of chewy leather. Mmmmm. So be aware of these signs:
-mushrooms should be darker in color and just fork-tender
-shrimp should be light pink throughout – once they have curled, take them off!
Enjoy this dish by itself for a light spring/summer meal, or pair it with cucumber, mild cheese, cream sauces, potatoes or some fluffy lemon rice for a side. Just remember that the shrimp and mushrooms cook relatively quick, so plan your other dishes accordingly – cold shrimp and mushrooms, yuck!
Either way, dill will fit your dinner bill.

Dill Shrimp and Mushrooms
9 raw shrimp
8 mushrooms, sliced about ¼ in thick
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 T lemon juice
1 t or so of dill [to taste, really]
Salt and pepper
1. Thaw shrimp in cold water for about 15 min. Clean and devein shrimp.
2. In large skillet, heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, wash and slice mushrooms.
3. Once oil is hot, add mushrooms. Cook for about 5 min, or until brown and fork-tender. Remove and keep warm.
4. Add butter and lemon juice to skillet. Add shrimp; cook for about 2-3 min, or until pink throughout.
5. Season with salt, pepper and dill. Add mushrooms back in, toss.
6. Serve!
Makes 1 serving. NOM: 9.5

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Package Deal

Blogging is certainly something I love, but I continue to struggle finding the adequate time to commit to it. Therefore, I have come up with this week’s “Package Deal” where you get three recipes for the cost of one blog entry!
Let me preface these entries by saying, I have decided to embark on an experimental variance to my diet: the Mediterranean Diet. I prefer the term “eating pattern” to “diet”, but either way, it is different than the norm. Yet, it is all the more applicable to the health conscious, as well as the money and time conscious people out there. My dinners now take a bit more planning ahead, but cook time is still less than 30 minutes for the most part.
Why I Did It
Heart Healthy: Although I’m still young and reckless, I do realize even I could benefit by cutting down on red meats, high processed foods and sweets. The switch from meat to fish and chicken has not been devastating, and I am by no means swearing off red meat – ha, I love bloody tenderloin, sausage meat sauce and thick cheeseburgers way too much for that.
Currently my meals are still hearty, savory and sometimes even rich [without the fat!]. I am using more fruits and veggies, and trying to figure out the secret to cooking beans. These aren’t canned beans, mind you. I’m working to get the whole “overnight soak, cook tomorrow” method down, but I’ve never done that before, so it’s still a work in progress.
Make Better Use of My Food Funds: a 2lb bag of beans is slightly over $1 at Walmart and a 1.5lbs of catfish was only $7 at Farm Fresh. In total last week, I spent $45 on groceries and I am still eating that food, 9 days later!
Feel Better: Reviews have said that this diet gives you more energy by not planting a belly bomb in you after every dinner. The foods are said to metabolize quicker and help you move on from eating to action. So far, I have been feeling happily satisfied with taste during the meal and less hungry afterwards, which hopefully means I am adjusting well to the switch. I always thought my taste buds were from the Mediterranean…
White Bean and Tomato Soup
This White Bean and Tomato soup brought a savory sweetness to my dinner bowl. The type of tomatoes is the key to the flavor, while the beans and homemade roasted vegetable broth make it heartier than a regular tomato soup.
1 cup white or navy beans, dry
2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ½ cups roasted vegetable broth - homemade
1 14.5oz can diced stewed or Italian tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1. Soak beans overnight, cook according to package instructions. [Basically until desired tenderness. About 30-45 min. That is the time consuming part]
2. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions, sauté until translucent. Add garlic, cook for about 2 more minutes.
3. Add in beans, broth, tomatoes and bay leaves.
4. Simmer until liquid has reduced and thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Eat!
Makes a WHOLE lot. Leftovers anyone? NOMS: 8
Ginger and Celery over Couscous
This dish is so simple, but we have ginger to thank for the creativity. Add some finely chopped ginger to celery, broccoli, rice, couscous, salads, etc. and you will find your taste buds will experience a bite of pungent flavor, but are then quickly refreshed by its clean aftertaste. You will invite ginger back into your meals again and again.
About 1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and finely diced
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 T lemon juice
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper
½ c plain couscous
1. Cook couscous according to package instructions.
2. In small frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add celery, cook until fork tender.
3. Add ginger, lemon juice and s&p to taste.
4. Mix with couscous.
Makes about 1 large serving. NOMS: 7
Pesto Pasta
Having a fresh, crisp basil pesto on hand is your ticket to the Land of Tasty Dishes. It’s best, I think, with just pasta and maybe some plump, red tomatoes. But I doubt any veggie would mind being slathered in homemade pesto.
2-3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
About ½ cup walnuts, chopped
4 T finely grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil – to desired consistency
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a blender or food processor, blend basil, nuts, garlic and parmesan until finely chopped.
2. Slowly pour in olive oil while the blender is on low. Add to desired consistency.
3. Season with salt and pepper. NOM!
Makes about ¾ cup of pesto, good for a few meals NOM: 9

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Life According to Food

From my sleepy college town on the coast to my super-suburban pocket in the boonies, not much changes: most of my day is spent in and around the kitchen. Last night we divided about least 3 hours between watching Food Network on a stained yellow couch and working on a homemade French baguette in a dorm kitchen. Today I took the hour long journey back home to spend 8 hours of it the kitchen making an Easter feast. Then right as I returned back to my dorm I was already starting up a vegetable stock. This is just the way I like it. My life is food.
I took that one-way ticket to the world revolving around food a while ago, and I do like it here. I’ve been cooking for myself for a while now, that’s nothing new. But this venture back home gave me the odd sensation of unfamiliarity with my setting. One would expect cooking to be transferable. Wherever there are wide, open gas-ranges and a water tap nearby, we should be right at home. Though now I am not so sure. There is an unsettling out-of-control feeling when we are not in our own element. It’s strange to think that my comfortable kitchen setting is now the hectic, community dorm kitchen. What I have taken away from this environment are the time and sharing sacrifices, along with the reward of having cooked a meal just the way I like it. I am forming “my own place” in a sense, one meal at a time.
My blog tonight has another purpose as well. As I was going through my old photos I realized that I have neglected a great summer/grilling recipe, a blue cheese and cracked peppercorn burger and Jamaican sweet potatoes. I made it for a few of my friends the other weekend and they were a hit. The burger was simple, a lot like the ultimate bacon and guacamole one I made a while back. This time however, I put some crumbled blue cheese and caramelized red onions on the top [with a little guac on the side]. The Jamaican sweet potatoes are the focus of this recipe tonight though. We all know about roasting kabobs, meats, and maybe even potatoes, but sweet potatoes? It turned out to be an absolutely delicious grill buddy to the burger – the sweetness from the bourbon and the brown sugar, along with a little tang from the ginger and nutmeg complimented the twinge of the blue cheese and salt and peppery-ness of the burger.
Jamaican Sweet Potatoes
1 large sweet potato
2 T butter
2 T bourbon
¼ c dark brown sugar [maybe more?]
½ t fresh ginger, grated
1 t ground cinnamon
¼ t ground nutmeg
1. Wash off sweet potato, poke holes in it with a fork.
2. Microwave for about 7 min, or until just tender.
3. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients into a basting sauce for the potatoes.
4. Slice sweet potato and situate on top of tin foil.
5. Brush sauce onto the potatoes.
6. Seal tin foil pouch, place on grill for about 15-20 min.
** You can also try putting the slices straight on the grill for different type of texture.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Homemade Soft Pretzels: Now All You Need Is the Dijon Mustard

Ever had that warm soft pretzel from a street vendor in the city? Yeah, me neither. I know, I know: “this is an experience I must have someday”, but my travels have been limited thus far in my life. This summer I hope to be northbound, visiting the Tri-City area. Assuredly, my opportunity will arise then. I’ll give you my verdict on the taste test comparison when the moment comes.

This story however, focuses bringing the city pretzel flair to the comfort of your own kitchen. Dough making is a skill that requires patience and precision – everything takes a while and has to remain at a pretty stable temperature until it enters the 450 inferno we call an oven. And this is where the only drawback to this whole experience came in: burning the hell out of my arm. We were attempting to take it out and use it as a cooling rack; too bad the oven had already preheated to 450 degrees. Anyway, it left a nice red, blistered stroke on my forearm. I was told to think of it as more like a cook’s “beauty mark”. Admittedly, that made it feel better.

Not sure what spurred the pretzel making, I believe it was stumbling on the internet? Regardless, it was a worthwhile, all night adventure that was enjoyed among friends. It is a recipe that uses yeast, and you know what that means: the infamous “waiting for it to rise”. This can take anywhere from 20 min to an hour, depending on your recipe. The more you time you give it, the higher it rises, aka the fluffier it gets. But this allows for other activities to occur alongside the pretzel making, like Frisbee! While the bread was rising I attempted throwing a plastic discus in the dark. I think I had better keep on making homemade pretzels; my area of expertise is the kitchen. Homemade soft pretzels are not for the instant snacker – so don’t start this at 1 A.M.

We made three different types of pretzels:

1) Original: a salty shell that encompassed a soft, warm bready center.

2) Herb/Spice: a combination of garlic powder, rosemary, and basil made this the one everyone was fighting over.

3) Sweet: you really have to add sugar to the dough mix. Brushing sugar and butter on the outside…doesn’t work.

I haven’t yet fine tuned the recipe – I want them to be browner next time, maybe the loops a bit more separated – but even though our pretzels resembled fat blobs of dough, fresh out of the oven these were perfect: warm, soft and salty. Taste is always first and foremost.

Overall, it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon with friends, or procrastinate doing your statistics homework on a Wednesday night. The snack is best enjoyed straight out of the oven with some spicy Dijon mustard [for the original at least] and is something you’ll want to do again and again.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

[I used Smitten Kitchen’s soft pretzel recipe]

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl and stir. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.