Friday, April 18, 2014

"Esquire Cook Book" - Shrimp with Rice Fra Diavolo (made for the premier of Mad Men - Season 7)

Date I made this recipe:  April 13, 2014 (Mad Men Season 7 premier)

Esquire Cook Book by the Editors of Esquire (magazine); Illustrations by Charmatz (Bill Charmatz)
Published by:  McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
© 1955
Recipe:  Shrimp with Rice, Fra Diavolo –p. 114

Finally—Mad Men (Season 7) is back along with Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty.  Wait, that's The Archies (1970's TV cartoon based on the comic book).  Correction:  Mad Men (Season 7) is back along with Don, Peggy, Roger, Pete, Joan and a host of other characters including (we hope), Betty Draper, Don's ex-wife.

It is with longing and trepidation that we approach Season 7 as this will be the final run of what I consider to be a great show.  Seven episodes air this spring, seven more follow next spring (2015) and then that's all folks.  And then what will we do?  Why, we'll watch it all on DVD's!  Collect the whole set!  I have.

Mad Men, in case you didn't know, is a story about men and women working at an advertising agency in the 60's.  Season 7 starts in 1969, just after Nixon's inauguration (and my word, won't we be in for a couple of wild years) but some of the characters, like our protagonist, Don, are stuck in the 50's and are trying to keep up with these changing times.  Many viewers commented that Don was still wearing a hat in the first season 7 episode, something that I don't find odd at all:  my father wore a hat to my college graduation in 1980.  Besides dealing with the changing times, each character on the show is trying to deal with a changing life.  It's too detailed for further comment so let's get to the food!

Esquire magazine is a men's magazine, founded in 1932 by the Heart Corporation.  It's still on the newsstand today, a major accomplishment given how many magazines have folded over the years.  I never read the magazine but when I saw this cookbook, I snapped it up.  (I also have Esquire's Handbook for Hosts which I am saving for another day.)

I noted at the top that the illustrations in this book were done by (Bill) Charmartz and they are basic illustrations (i.e. nothing fancy) but definitely charming and a sign of the times.  Many magazines featured artwork by famous (in the industry) illustrators and magazine covers for the longest time also featured artwork.  Today, cover art from Gourmet magazine, Vogue, The New Yorker and the like are highly sought after (and can cost a pretty penny).

As to the recipes, there's a wide variety of recipes, some of which are quite involved and some of which are easy; unless I'm in some kind of weird mood, I opt for easy!  Many of the recipes are from famous restaurants and I only wish I had the time to do some Google searches to see which ones, if any, are still operating.  And, as a sign of the times, frog legs and lobster recipes are prevalent in the Shellfish chapter—although someone please explain to me how frogs are shellfish.  That puzzles. 

After careful consideration, I decided on the fancily-named Shrimp with Rice, Fra Diavolo, Italian for "Brother Devil."  Wait – what? Well anyway, it's supposed to be spicy.  This was not spicy.  It was good, but there were a few problems so let's get to them!

Problem number one:  the recipe requires "1/2 teaspoon pepper."  It doesn't say "red pepper flakes" which is the usual and customary ingredient of this dish, just pepper.  Well, pepper can have a bit of a bite, but not black pepper if this was in fact what they wanted.  The little spice chart at the front of the book was not helpful because it too, listed "Pepper – black or white."  But I'm here to tell you folks, that you need to use red pepper flakes and a lot more than ½ teaspoon!

Problem number two:  To make the rice, you slice two small onions and cook them in ¼ pound of sweet butter.  Not a quarter stick or a quarter cup – ¼ POUND.  This is too much butter.  Way too much.  It might have been fine had the recipe called for two large onions but not two small.  So while the rice was good, it was a bit greasy.

Problem number three:  the recipe calls for one 1 1/2-pound can of plum tomatoes but doesn't tell us what to do with them.  I found the blobs of tomatoes to be just a bit much so I pulsed them in my Cuisinart.  I might as well have just purchased chopped or crushed tomatoes – live and learn.

Problem number four:  what kind of heat are we looking for here?  Simmer?  Low?  Medium?  The only direction was to bring the broth to a boil, then add the rice and cook for 20 minutes.  But are we still at a boil or not at a boil?  And then when you make the tomato sauce the directions say to "cook for 15 minutes" but again – what temperature? I'll do whatever the recipe calls for but it really should call for something!

Now, despite our four problems ("Please identify the four problems then compare and contrast in an essay..."), the dish was tasty.  Not spicy, not hot, and not necessarily spectacular, but tasty.  Can't fault that.  And I do so love shrimp, so there's that.  It was a nice dish for a Sunday night viewing of Mad Men and seemed to fit in with the times – a little exotic ("Frau?" "Diavolo?") a little spicy (this was 1955 after all), very retro and very "Esquire."  And If anybody embodies a 50's (and 60's) male, it is Don Draper.  (The fact that he and his life are a mess is beside the point – watch the show!). (By the way, although "esquire" is used in the US to signify an attorney, in England it is a designation used by certain members of the gentry i.e. well-borne members of a high social class...usually men.)

And that is how we got off to a great start watching Mad Men Season 7 premier!

Shrimps with Rice, Fra Diavolo...from Scribes Restuarant, New York – serves 4, amply
2 small onions, sliced
¼ pound sweet butter (Ann's Note: this is way too much—adjust according to your preference)
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups rice
3 cloves garlic, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Ann's Note: again, just a tad much – adjust accordingly)
1 ½ pound can of plum tomatoes (Ann's Note:  I recommend using crushed tomatoes)
½ teaspoon *pepper (Ann's Note:  use red pepper flakes.  Period.  And about 1 teaspoon – or more – should do it)
¼ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 ½ pounds peeled, raw shrimp

For the rice:  Slice two small onions and cook them until golden in ¼ pound sweet butter.  (Ann's Note:  use low heat).  Add 1 quart chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in 2 cups rice and cook for 20 minutes to reduce the volume.  (Ann's Note:  I decreased the temperature to medium and even then, almost burned the rice.  You've got to keep an eye on things!).

For the shrimp sauce:  Brown 3 diced garlic cloves in 4 tablespoons olive oil; then add a 1 1/2-pound can of plum tomatoes, ½ teaspoon pepper (Ann's Note:  Last call—use red pepper flakes!), ¼ teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley.  Cook for 15 minutes (Ann's Note:  apparently, at a temperature of your choosing!  I chose low), then add the shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes.

Place rice on platter, cover with shrimp and sauce, and serve to 4, amply.

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