Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Shrimply Delicious!" & "The Chesapeke Bay Cookbook" & "Little Italy Cookbook" & "Inside America's Test Kitchen" & "Sicilian Feasts" - holiday dinner

Date I made these recipes: December 15, 2007

Shrimply Delicious! by Eva Jean Schulz
Published by: Doubleday and Company, Inc.
© 1966
Recipe: Shrimp and Mango Chutney Canapes – p. 23

The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook by John Shields
Published by: Aris Books – Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-201-51808-2
© 1990
Recipe: Hot Crab Dip – p. 216

Little Italy Cookbook by David Ruggerio
Published by: Artisan
ISBN: 1-885183-54-2
© 1997
Recipe: Cousin Vinny’s Linguine with Scallops – p. 201

Inside America’s Test Kitchen by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Published by: America’s Test Kitchen
ISBN: 0-936184-71-X
© 2003
Recipe: Garlic-Lemon Green Beans with Roasted Bread Crumbs – p. 109

Sicilian Feats by Giovanna Bellia La Marca
Published by: Hippocrene Books
ISBN: 0-7818-0967-3
© 2003
Recipe: Zabaglione (Egg and Wine Custard) – p. 163

The holidays are upon us and this year, it was my turn to host my “gang’s” annual Christmas dinner. I just finished doing the dishes and putting away my Grandmother’s china and let me tell you, I’m pooped!

For the past 20 some years, my best friends and I have celebrated the holidays by hosting a dinner party on a rotating basis. My merry little band has fluctuated on the numbers over the years what with some members moving away and two of us getting married but we are locked and loaded on a solid five of us and that works out just fine.

This year, though, was a little challenging as most of us have experienced some sort of ill health during the year. The pathetic thing is that we are all approaching our 50th birthdays next year (2008) and so it seems Mother Nature is speeding things up just a tich on the aging process. No matter—despite dietary restrictions and careful avoidance of foods that could otherwise kill us—we managed to make our way through the meal I prepared. Whew! One of my friends who is also a fan of the show, Dinner Impossible, on the Food Network said that this could have been an episode and she’s partially right. (For the record, Dinner Impossible shows how Chef Robert Irvine handles an impossible assignment each week such as “make 50 different appetizers in two hours for a party” or “cook a dinner at the Mall of America using food procured at the mall.” The only problem is that the mall doesn’t have any grocery stores so he had to beg other restaurant chefs for some of their food. Also for the record—Robert never fails. He may cut it close but he makes it every time. You’ve got to love that).

Anyway, although the meal came off without a hitch, I am nothing if not hard on myself and the recipes and so while my friends thought most were great, I was left thinking a few could have been better.

Take, for instance, the recipe for Cousin Vinny’s Linguine with Scallops. The dish was progressing quite nicely until I added the mushrooms. And I didn’t just add some mushrooms, I added a pound of mushrooms as the recipe dictated. Now people, it could be just me, but I thought this was overkill. Moreover, I thought the mushrooms made the sauce too heavy and hearty for the scallops that were added at the end. And so that dish ended up on my “eh” list of things I would serve again. And that’s too bad because the author and I have something in common: to my complete amazement, he notes that his father came from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. My grandparents, Vita Costa Verme and Angelo Verme came from the same small town in the early 1900’s. Maybe we have relatives in common, who knows? Still paisano or not, I’m puzzled by the recipe although I think the sauce was quite tasty prior to the time I added the mushrooms.

And then there are the green beans I made. Although the recipe hails from the esteemed America’s Test Kitchen’s kitchen, it lacked the oomph I was looking for. Maybe my husband had a heavy hand in sprinkling the breadcrumbs, who knows?

As to the appetizers, while the crab dip was okay, everyone loved the Shrimp and Mango Canapes. I thought I might have over toasted them just a bit but my friends assured me otherwise.

This brings us to the one dish that I thought was solid and that was the Zabaglione, an Italian custard made with egg yolks, sugar and marsala wine. It’s hard to screw that one up and frankly, the marsala wine made everything better!

As to other futsy details about the recipes, don’t think for one minute that the shrimp and mango chutney canapés served 24 as stated unless they used an eyedropper to put the mixture onto the toasts. I’d plan on the recipe serving 15 tops. The recipe also said “sprinkle with buttered crumbs, and brown on a baking sheet under the broiler.” Well people, this is somewhat vague. What about an estimated time? What about a definition of “brown?” These are the types of things I need to know!

Then there was the lack of direction for the scallop recipe sauce. The recipe said to “lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then add mushrooms.” Okay, and then what? It didn’t say how much longer I should cook the sauce. The recipe then jumped to “cook the pasta…” Well, this seemed to be lacking in something.

So here’s what I did. I added the mushrooms and then simmered the sauce for at least 20 more minutes. And then because it was still chunky, I put the whole thing in a food processor to break up the tomatoes and the mushrooms, more so because the tomatoes were huge, unattractive blobs. And why were the tomatoes such huge, unattractive blobs? Because the recipe said to use 2-28 cans peeled plum tomatoes. It didn’t say “crushed tomatoes,” it didn’t say “pureed tomatoes,” it said peeled plum tomatoes. And so I bought peeled plum tomatoes and they were huge and unsightly and reminded me of the “sauce” (I use the term loosely) that my Catholic school used to serve us—chunks of tomatoes on top of spaghetti. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. So let me repeat an often-used phrase: “The devil is in the details.”

And just so you know, there are two kinds of marsala wine, dry and sweet. This dessert calls for sweet so read the label before buying!

But other than all that, we had a great time! And now that my obligation is done, I get to enjoy the fruits of others’ labor and can focus my attention on the rest of my cookbook collection, at least for another couple of years. We’ll see if I can get through the rest of my cookbook collection by then. Stay tuned!

Shrimp and Mango Chutney Canapes – serves 24 (not really. Try fifteen)
1 cup finely chopped, cooked shrimp
¼ cup heavy cream or mayonnaise (I used cream but I’m thinking mayo probably would have been better)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Mango chutney
24 bread rounds (i.e. cocktail bread)
Buttered bread crumbs
1 hard cooked egg yolk, mashed

Blend together shrimp and cream or mayonnaise. Stir in melted butter, Parmesan cheese and Tabasco. Season to taste with mango chutney. Spread mixture on bread rounds. Sprinkle with buttered crumbs, and brown on baking sheet under broiler. Remove from the heat and top with egg yolk.

By the way, the recipe doesn’t say how to make buttered crumbs but the green bean recipe did and so all you need to do is melt some butter, add your crumbs and stir for 3-5 minutes.

Hot Crab Dip – serves 10 to 12 (and so I made half the recipe for 5 of us)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated onion (and if anyone knows how to do this without making a mess, please post a comment!)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives
1 pound backfin or special crabmeat, picked over for shells (Note: I used canned crabmeat as it was cheaper and more readily available here in the Midwest at this time of year).
Crackers or French bread slices for accompaniment

Preheat oven to 350.

In a bowl, blend the cream cheese and cream until smooth. Mix in the onion, horseradish, Old Bay, cheese, and parsley. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Pour into a buttered 1 ½-quart casserole. Cover and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Cousin Vinny’s Linguine with Scallops – serves 6 to 8 as first course or main dish
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
½ teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine
1 pound white mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 pound linguine
2 pounds bay scallops
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 3 minutes, until golden brown. Add the basil, pepper flakes, parsley, thyme, tomatoes, and wine. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then add mushrooms.

Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the package.

Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the scallops and quickly sauté for 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and pepper. Add the scallops to the sauce, spoon immediately over the linguine, and serve.

Garlic-Lemon Green Beans with Toasted Bread Crumbs – serves 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices high-quality sandwich bread, ground fine in a food processor (or, lacking two slices of bread just hanging around waiting to be ground, use canned bread crumbs!)
Salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon

For the breadcrumbs:
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; when melted, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, stir in ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the Parmesan; set aside.

For the green beans:
Wipe out the skillet. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, pepper flakes, and thyme, then toss in the green beans. Add the broth and increase the heat to medium-high; cover and cook until the beans are partly tender but still crisp at the center, about 4 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs, and serve.

Zabaglione (Egg and Wine Custard) – makes 4 to 6 servings (although note, they are rather small but rich servings)
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup marsala wine

Place the egg yolks and the sugar in a metal or glass bowl that will fit over a pan of simmering water. Beat the egg yolks until thick. Add the marsala wine, and whisk over the simmering water until the custard falls in a ribbon when the whisk is lifted. Remove from the simmering water, and place in a bowl with ice. Continue to whisk until cold, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: I feel as though you can read the line “place in a bowl with ice” two ways. The first is to literally place the mixture into a bowl filled with ice, letting the hot mixture melt the ice cubes. This seemed messy. The second way, and the way I did it, is to place the bowl containing the mixture over a second bowl containing ice and some ice water. To my mind, this was the way to go but you decide.

Happy Holidays!

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