No-sweat Cooking, Day 12

Dinner: August 6, 2010

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!

I felt awful today, the result of spending my very long commute sitting on a freezing MBCR train soaked to the bone after getting caught in a downpour as I ran to South Station from my office yesterday. By the time I woke this morning my limbs were stiff as boards and I was in a lot of pain, so I stayed home to rest and recuperate. I had scheduled this meal for our dinner, and I was grateful I did – it was super easy to put together, and there’s nothing like a lightly creamy pasta dish to comfort and soothe you.

I had first considered poaching the shrimp, but ended up halving them lengthwise after cleaning them, then sautéing them in a little bit of olive oil with half of my tomatoes and some chopped fresh marjoram in place of oregano, just until the shrimp were cooked through. I added the fusilli to the pan of shrimp and tomatoes when it was tender, added the remaining tomatoes, creme fraiche, and gave it all a toss to combine. This was another delicious dish that came together in just minutes.

Get the recipe: Creamy Tomato, Shrimp & Fusilli

Maine Shrimp to the Rescue (Again)

Maine shrimp

Writing out a meal plan for the week is great and all, but there are times, like last night, when I just don’t feel like cooking the dinner I had planned. Thankfully, I’ve stocked up the kitchen with plenty of options for spur-of-the-moment meals, and once again I turned to some sweet little Maine shrimp for a quick weeknight dinner. I put a half pound of the little beauties in a water bath to thaw while I built a risotto: a mix of butter and olive oil, carnaroli rice, plenty of chopped shallot, a dab of double-concentrated tomato paste for color and tang, and the last dregs of a bottle of fizzy that had been lingering in the fridge.

Dinner: February 4, 2010

I usually save my shrimp shells and cook them down to make a tasty stock, but since I didn’t have any prepared I used plain water for the additional liquid the risotto needed. (It was fine, though I will say I prefer the richer flavor the shrimp stock adds. Next time.) The peeled shrimp went in right at the end since they cook so quickly, and I finished the risotto with a knob of butter, a glug of heavy cream, and a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. And dinner was served.

Maine Shrimp to the Rescue

Dinner:  January 26, 2010

I dove head-first into my new position this week, with my first trainee joining the department on Monday. Things are going great, but I’m still effectively doing my old job as well, and people, I am *beat* by the time I get home. I did myself a favor by writing up a meal plan for this week’s dinners over the weekend, but I had to fall back and punt last night when I realized that the fillets from the whole black sea bass I had in the fridge were not going to be nearly enough for two (particularly since breakfast and lunch are luxuries I haven’t had much time for lately).

Maine shrimp

Thankfully, I had portioned out some lovely little Maine shrimp a couple of weeks back and tucked them away in the freezer for future meals. After a quick water bath to thaw them, I gave them a quick saute with sliced leeks and a bit of grapeseed oil in my new favorite pan. They needed just a couple of minutes to cook through, and were delicious served alongside sauteed red cabbage and carrots on a bed of black rice. I whisked together the juice of a lime, some tamari, and a bit of toasted sesame oil to drizzle over the top of our bowls, a simple sauce that provided just the right notes of salt and acidity to complement the sweet shrimp and nutty rice.

Sea-food Diet

Dinner:  September 11, 2009

Commuting to Boston can be rough, and it makes for some very long days (12 hours from the time I leave in the morning to the time I walk through the door in the evening, assuming I don’t work late or have train delays), but it’s worth it for many reasons. Like Providence, Boston is a great food town, and it’s a treat to venture out on my lunch break to source out items for dinner.

One of my favorite discoveries since moving back to this part of the country is Mercato del Mare (a/k/a “the cutest fish market ever“), a jewel box of a store located in the North End. Since Friday was grey and gloomy, I decided to head to the store to pick up ingredients for a light but warming seafood stew.

In a riff on my standard preparation, I decided to toss some Point Judith calamari into the mix. I generally grill or fry calamari, but since tasting a red wine-braised version at Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Local Food Fest over the summer, I have been eager to try a long-cooked preparation, and the calamari turned out as meltingly tender as I had hoped it would be.

saffron

Seafood Stew with Saffron, Tomatoes and Fennel

½ lb. calamari, cleaned (bodies, tentacles or a mix of both)
½ lb. skinless, firm-fleshed white fish (I used cod), cut into 1 inch chunks
½ lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb. cockles or other small clams, scrubbed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
kosher or sea salt
1 cup diced shallot, red onion, or leek
a big pinch of saffron
¼ cup dry white vermouth
1 28 oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes with their juices (I prefer San Marzano), lightly crushed
1 cup peeled and cubed russet potato
½ cup chopped fennel bulb
1 cup water

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of the shallot, onion or leek and a big pinch of salt, stir to coat with oil, and cook for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Slice the calamari bodies into rings. Add the calamari rings (and tentacles, if using) and another pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the oil. Clear a spot in the center of the pan and crumble in the saffron, letting it toast briefly before stirring through. Add the vermouth and the tomatoes with their juices. Stir and let cook over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Let cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, and partially uncovering if the heat is too high. Add the potato, fennel and remaining onion, plus up to a cup of water and a pinch more salt, stir and let cook until the potatoes are just tender. Add the chunks of fish, the shrimp, and the cockles at the end, letting them simmer in the hot broth until they are just cooked through – about 5 minutes should do. Remove from heat and ladle the stew into wide, shallow bowls. Serve with plenty of toasted garlic-rubbed bread on the side.

(Weekend Eats (and Drinks) will return next week.)

Phat Tuesday

Dinner:  February 24, 2009

Every year, Jen and I like to plan a special meal for Mardi Gras, I think mostly because we both just love New Orleans–even though we’ve never been there together. A couple of years ago, for example, Jen fried up some catfish fillets and served them with red beans and rice.

This year, though, I took on dinner. I remembered a delicious dish served up at Palace Cafe in New Orleans. I had this dish as part of a buffet dinner, served at a Beefeater Gin reception during last year’s Tales of the Cocktail. The dish was a Creole/Italian hybrid of shrimp, sausage, and pasta in a rich, creamy sauce. Or, as Palace Cafe describes it, “Pasta St. Charles: Louisiana shrimp and smoked andouille sausage tossed in a Creole mustard cream with penne pasta and Pecorino Romano cheese.”

Anita, from Married…with Dinner, sleuthed out the recipe and was kind enough to pass it along. I started by bringing cream to a boil and reducing it down. I took it off the heat and stirred in creole mustard. Or at least, a fascimile of same. I couldn’t actually locate creole mustard in any of our local stores, so I improvised by mixing Worcestershire and Tobasco with Dijon mustard. This was a shortcut that Jen found on the Web, and I have no idea how accurate it is, but I tried it anyway.

The next step involved sauteeing sausage in butter. Mm. Sausage and butter. The recipe calls for andouille, which of course makes sense for NOLA. Good andouille, however, is hard to find here, and at any rate, probably won’t be from local sources. We instead used kielbasa from Stoney Hill Cattle, which we bought at the farmer’s market on Saturday.

Creole seasoning

I lightly browned the sausage and then added minced garlic and creole seasoning. Again, creole seasoning is unobtainable here, so I again improvised. In this case, though, I had a source I knew to be reliable: Chuck Taggart’s Gumbo Pages.*

I used small Maine shrimp for this dish, and because they’re so wee and delicate, they don’t require long cooking. So rather than sauteeing them with the sausage, as the recipe instructs, I instead lightly tossed them through the cream-mustard sauce. I folded the saucy shrimp in with the sausage and then folded in half a pound of chunky pasta.

I found that the recipe, as given, was way under-salted. I suspect this is because packaged creole seasonings include salt. Chuck’s recipe does not, and he even says he’d rather control the salt as an independent ingredient. I agree, so I salted the cream-mustard sauce before adding it to the pan with the sausage and pasta. I salted the sauce, whisked, tasted, and repeated as necessary until it was just right.

*It says something about Chuck that his recipe is the first hit in Google when you search for “creole seasoning.” Chuck, by the way, was nearly the third member of our dining party last night, since I relied on GP to provide recipes for Last Night’s Drinks–the Vieux Carré and the Cocktail à la Louisiane.

Hitting the sauce

Dinner:  February 11, 2009

In the afterglow of what was one darned fine bowl of noodles, I’m wondering: why did it take me so long to discover the wonders of fish sauce? I mean, honestly, I’m thinking of all sorts of dishes past that could have benefited from a hit of that fabulous savory nectar, and I’m trying very hard not to sneak spoonfuls of it straight from the bottle.

Mike and I enjoy all sorts of Asian cuisines, but again, they are a bit outside our comfort zone for cooking at home, so we haven’t done so often. Now I’m thinking that’s just crazy, and I’m looking forward to doing some research and experimenting more.

These brothy noodles weren’t just about the fish sauce, though – they were about beautiful Maine shrimp (yes, we’re still on that kick), the shells used for stock and the tender flesh just cooked through before serving; they were also about sweet local carrots, peppery hydroponic watercress, and bright spring onions, all of which added a pop of color and clean bursts of flavor to the dish.

Shelling the tiny shrimp was really the most complicated part of this dish, and it wasn’t difficult at all. The rest came together quickly and easily, and the result was so good, there’s no way I won’t make this again. Here’s what I did (and I actually measured, so you even get something resembling a recipe):

Brothy shrimp noodles

A glug of olive oil
1-2 large-ish spring onions, bulbs and green tops sliced and separated
1 long, thin dried chile pepper, lightly crumbled
1 lb. Maine shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
6 cups water
1 package thin cellophane noodles, plus water for soaking
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more to taste)
Juice of one lime (or more to taste)
1-2 medium carrots, finely shredded or grated
1-2 handfuls of watercress
Asian chile sauce (like Sriracha) for serving

In a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced spring onion bulb and the chile pepper and cook until fragrant. Add the shrimp shells, tossing to coat with the oil, and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water, cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook 20 minutes or so, then pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, pressing down with a ladle to extract all of the liquid from the shells. Discard the solids and return the stock to the pot (wipe out any remaining solids from the pot first). Add fish sauce and lime, stirring through, cover and bring to a low boil.

In a kettle or separate pot, bring several cups of water to a boil, and then pour them over the cellophane noodles in a bowl. Let noodles soak for 10 minutes, then drain noodles and set aside. To serve, place some of the noodles in deep bowls; scatter the sliced green tops of the spring onions over, as well as some of the grated carrot. Place some of the shrimp on top, and then carefully ladle the hot stock into the bowls, gently stirring through – the shrimp will cook in a minute or two just from the heat of the stock. Top with watercress and serve, passing chile sauce, additional fish sauce and lime juice at the table to adjust seasoning to taste.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

1.31.09 grocery haul, part 1

Okay, I promise this post will be significantly less mopey than the last one. You know why? This weekend was positively restorative. Really. The last week was a hard one, but I got through it. I had another roast chicken waiting when I got home on Friday evening (thanks, honey), and you just can’t go wrong with that. And then we went to the farmers’ market on Saturday, Jen greeted me with a big warm hug, and Matt Jennings gave us bites of grilled cheese. AND we brought all these goodies home. I’d say that’s all WIN.

1.31.09 grocery haul, part 2

As much as we’d like, we can’t live by farmers’ market alone, so after a stop at Whole Foods for a few other staples, we headed home with our bounty, which included my latest obsession, Maine shrimp.

I can’t get over how good these little guys (actually, gals) are, and they’re crazy cheap (I paid $3.00 for half a pound), which means I’m probably going to overload on them while they’re available. We had them in last weekend’s seafood stew, with some of Perry’s amazing littlenecks and cod from the cutest fish market ever, and enjoyed them again in this Saturday’s dinner, a super easy but totally sexy risotto.

I made a stock from the shrimp shells, simmering them with water, sea salt, and shallot and fennel trimmings, which I set aside to add to the risotto later. I used my usual risotto method, sautéing a couple of chopped shallots in a mix of butter and olive oil, and I added some thinly sliced fennel to the mix as well.

The rice went in next, and when it was translucent, I started adding the liquids: a splash of white vermouth, 1/3 cup or so of the juice from a can of San Marzano tomatoes, the juice of half a lemon, and that shrimp stock, a little at a time, finishing when the rice was al dente.

Dinner:  January 31, 2009

I turned off the heat and added the shrimp, gently stirring them through – all they needed was a minute or two to get perfectly done. I stirred a in a little creme fraiche for richness, and garnished our servings with feathery fennel fronds. This was some seriously good stuff – we finished it all.

Sunday brunch

Sunday morning. Our heat was back after a brief outage overnight, the cats let us sleep until 7, and we had pork to look forward to, in the form of this sausage, fennel and potato hash. With Wishing Stone absent from the farmers’ market, we’re tasting our way through the other eggs that are available, and these beauties from Harmony Hill were terrific.

superbowl snack

We didn’t watch the game, but I couldn’t resist putting together a midday snack of nachos, with leftover Freedom Bean Farm beans, chile-braised pork from the freezer, Poblano Farm salsa, and of course, plenty of cheese. There may have been some ice cold beer involved as well. And then there was dinner.

We brought home a 4 lb. top round roast from Simmons Farm on Saturday, which I seasoned really simply – salt, pepper and dried marjoram – and let cook for hours with some carrots and potatoes. I removed the meat to let it rest, pulled out the veggies and strained the bits and juices that remained. I whisked in a little more water, scraping up all of the fond from the bottom and sides of the pan, and adding a dab of tomato paste, then tipped in some pearl onions and green beans from the freezer. I also mixed up a little horseradish and mustard creme fraiche to go alongside.

Dinner:  February 1, 2009

I haven’t cooked a pot roast in years, and unfortunately I let this one get a little more done than I would have liked, but it’s a testament to the meat that it was still moist and juicy, and that the flavor was really, really good. As I had hoped, we have ample leftovers for sandwiches and to incorporate into another dinner later in the week.