Monday, March 29, 2010

"Pasta - a passion" - Hot-and-sour shrimp pasta

Date I made this recipe: March 28, 2010

Pasta – a passion by Nina Dreyer Hensley, Jim Hensley and Paul Lowe
Published by: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 0-28195-08106-2

Recipe: Hot-and-sour shrimp pasta – p. 28

“And now let’s turn to the weather….”

People, the weather in these parts has been unbelievable—no snow, no cold, just mostly sunny with highs in the 50’s—in March! And not to jinx it, but it appears we are set to cruise into April in the low 70’s—unbelievable.

But this unbelievable weather snap has wrecked havoc into my “spring” menu planning. Normally I’d be up to my eyeballs in soups and stew recipes as we have often had basketball tournament snowstorms to contend with but not this year. So a major rethink was in order.

And so I toyed with lighter foods – maybe something Middle Eastern or even chicken but nah, too boring. And then I fixated, and I mean fixated on pasta. I don’t know why (except I had the TV commercial of old “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day” on the brain). So then I pulled out my battery of Italian cookbooks and leafed through and contemplated and considered and then settled on an Asian pasta dish. So much for red sauce!

This cookbook had such yummy-sounding recipes that I almost felt guilty about going for something Asian but I tell you what, it was the right choice. This recipe is delicious and easy. In fact, I prepared it just after my husband and I got back from a walk around our neighborhood. It wasn’t the warmest walk we’ve ever taken (as evidence by my freezing cold ears) but the sun was out, the snow was gone and ahhhhh….

Hot-and-sour shrimp pasta – serves 6
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 tablespoons sake
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 pound tagliatelle (or fettucini)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, cut into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red pepper, crushed (or use red pepper flakes)

Hot-and-sour sauce
2 cups chicken broth
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put the shrimp in a bowl with the sake, ginger, and sesame oil. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan. Add the shrimp and cook until pink. Transfer the shrimp to a plate. (Note: I purchased already-cooked shrimp and it didn’t seem to make much difference as to taste. Just make sure you don’t overcook the shrimp.)

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add the red onion, garlic and red pepper. Saute until the onion is soft. Set aside. Mix all the sauce ingredients together and stir into the vegetables then stir constantly until the sauce boils. Cook the sauce for 2 to 3 minutes, until it thickens. Gently mix in the shrimp and pasta. (Note: these instructions just didn’t make sense! Why set the vegetables aside then turn around and say add the sauce to the vegetables and then stir until the sauce boils? Am I right? So I added the sauce to the vegetables and then cooked as directed and then added the shrimp and pasta and all was well with the world and with my stomach!).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Complete Book of Soupds and Stews" - Green Split Pea Soup with Wine

Date I made this recipe: March 17, 2010 (St. Patrick’s Day)

The Complete Book of Soups and Stews by Bernard Clayton, Jr.
Published by: Simon & Schuster (A Fireside Book)
ISBN: 0-671-43864-6
Recipe: Green Split Pea Soup with Wine – p. 328-329

Well, here we are at St. Patrick’s Day and I thought I had a “regulation” corned beef and cabbage meal all set and ready to go until I talked to my husband.

Me: “So, what do you think of corned beef and cabbage for St. Paddy’s Day?”
Him: “Huh.” (In husband speak, this means “No.”)
Me: “Okay…hmmm… what about pea soup?”(Hey, it’s green, it works!)
Him: “I could get behind pea soup.”
Me: “And it has potatoes in it and potatoes make us think of Ireland so there it is!”

You have to admit, it was a pretty good save, right?

While my husband might have some Irish blood in him, I have not a drop – not one tiny little drop. And frankly, crowded beer halls are just not all that fun if you’re not Irish. But I can cook and I can distinguish colors (my husband is colorblind) and so I went with green soup with potatoes and so there we are – instant Irish!

The author notes that “a hint of mustard and sesame oil and a nip of wine (Me: it’s St. Paddy’s day—go for broke!) and vinegar give this hearty soup a special character that sets it apart from the dozens of other dishes made with this legume.” And sure and begorrah, this soup turned out to be pretty tasty indeed!

This concludes my salute to St. Patrick’s Day! Slainte ! (To your health!)

Green Split Pea Soup with Wine – serves 8
1 pound green split peas, washed and drained
5 or 6 cups water, depending on consistency desired
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup minced celery
1 medium potato, thinly sliced
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 cup chopped tomatoes
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon thyme
Several drops dark sesame oil (very potent)
3 tablespoons vinegar
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Wash and pick over split peas. In a medium (4-quart) saucepan, cover the peas with 5 cups of water. Add the bay leaf and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until tender, about 1 hour.

While the peas are simmering, cook the onions, garlic, celery, potato and carrots in a large covered skillet over low heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the contents of the skillet to the soup and continue simmering for an additional hour, or a total of 2 hours.

Fifteen minutes before serving, add the tomatoes, red wine, mustard, thyme and a few drops of sesame oil. Stir to blend well. If the soup seems thick, add a cup or so of water.

Just before serving, add vinegar, parsley and freshly ground pepper to taste.

NOTE: You will likely have to add water way before you get to the final 15 minute mark.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Dude Food" & "Cakes Men Like" - (Heavy Mental) Pot Roast and Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Date I made these recipes: February 28, 2010

Dude Food – Recipes for the Modern Guy by Karen Brooks, Gideon Bosker, and Reed Darmon
Published by: Chronicle
ISBN: 0-8118-1679-6
Recipe: Heavy Mental Pot Roast – p. 32-33

Cakes Men Like by Benjamin Darling
Published by: Chronicle
ISBN: 0-8118-0007-5
Recipe: Pineapple Upside Down Cake – p. 36

Well, tomorrow is my hubby’s birthday and so of course I made him dinner and a cake. And he had full reign over what he wanted for those two items except I directed which cookbooks he had to peruse. Never mind that it’s his birthday; it’s my collection and my blog so there!

Since our nicknames for each other since we started dating have been (a very tongue-in-cheek) “Dude” and “Babe,” it was not at all unusual for me to have him select the main course from Dude Food. If you’ve been reading my last couple of blog postings, you’ll know that my last couple of meals have been underwhelming but this one was a winner. As Andy so aptly said: “This combines my favorite food groups of beer and chocolate—how bad could that be?”

Similarly, I hit the jackpot with the Pineapple Upside Down Cake from the book Cakes Men Like. If that isn’t simplistic enough for you then I don’t know what is.

This being the last day of the Olympics, I had to tune in to the USA v. Canada Hockey game and let me just say that hockey and loose cake flour do not go well together! I ended up with (seemingly) half the dry ingredients on my fleece jacket. Although the US lost, it was a great game, even going into sudden-death overtime. Eh, you can’t win them all but at least I won where it counted the most—my man’s birthday dinner!

And so here they are - Andy Martin’s birthday selections! (Both of these dishes cook at the same temperature, 325F. Was that a considerate husband, or what?!)

Heavy Mental Pot Roast – serves 6 (Note: total cooking time is 4 hours, 30 minutes)
Two 1.4-ounces boxes onion soup mix, such as Knorr
One 1.2-ounce package brown gravy mix, such as Knorr Classic
½ cup brown ketchup
One pint strong dark stout, such as Guiness Extra Stout
1 square Mexican sweet chocolate, chopped (or substitute 1 square semisweet chocolate plus ¼ teaspoon cinnamon)
3 ¼ pounds beef pot roast
3 baking potatoes, quartered

Combine the onion soup mix, brown gravy mix, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Blend in the ketchup and stout. Let stand for 30 minutes. Add the chopped chocolate.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325F.

Pour the stout mixture over the bottom of a roasting pan and add the pot roast, turning once to coat. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn the meat over. Add the potatoes and tightly recover the pan. Cook 2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Remove the pan again and carefully pour off any liquid into a saucepan. Cover the roast and set aside.

Cook the liquid over medium-high heat until thick and gravylike, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Slice the meat and arrange on a platter with the potatoes. Pour 1 cup of the gravy on top. Serve extra gravy at the table.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake – makes one 8-inch layer
1 ¼ cups sifted Cake Flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening (I thought they meant Crisco until I read the recipe instructions and found I needed to use butter)
½ cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 slices pineapple
1 cup pecan meats

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt and sift together three times. Cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add egg; then flour, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 8-inch iron skillet. (Big Note: I don’t have a cast iron skillet so I used a regular cake pan and it was fine…except the sugar will not melt as well as it should. Mine glopped all over the place—so much for presentation!). Add brown sugar and stir until melted. (Big Note #2: This instruction was fraught with peril. First I melted the butter in the microwave then added the sugar and that took forever so I went with stovetop. In what seemed to be seconds, I went from barely melting sugar to practically on fire. I had to stop and open the back door to air out the kitchen! Then I poured the burnt mixture down the drain but that created quite the clog. All in all, I spent more time trying to chisel off hardened sugar than I did anything. Step 3 was to go back to the microwave and this time, it melted just fine but it didn’t pour in the pan. Geez, Louise!)

Arrange the pineapple and nuts over the sugar mixture then pour the batter over the contents of the skillet. Bake in a 325 oven for 40 minutes. Loosen cake from sides and bottom and serve upside down.