Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Grilled Garlic Lime Shrimp

Florida apparently missed the "winter" memo, so we still have excellent grilling weather. I'm trying to put it to good use to give you all some recipes and some jealousy. For those of you who have access to a grill, this is an excellent way to make a gourmet meal in record time (and also record clean-up!), but you can make this dish in the stove or in a saute pan just as easily (bake at 350 for ten minutes or so, or saute in olive oil on medium high heat for three to four minutes per side). The grill just gives it this woodsy delicious taste and a great crisp texture. The flavors are also very simple but pack a lot of punch, and really, this is one of my favorite ways to prepare shrimp.

Total prep time: 45 minutes (including marinating time, but not including time to de-shell and de-vein shrimp if you purchase them that way)

Total cook time: 8 minutes

What you will need:

1 lb de-shelled, de-veined (butterflied) shrimp (I typically buy 21/25ers--you want to get them big enough that they'll slide on a skewer)
1 lime (there are two pictured, I know)
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste

Note: I made these shrimp on skewers, but if you have a grill basket, you make them just as easily

First step is to peel and de-vein your shrimp. Some people prefer to leave the tails on, I personally hate it. Whatever floats your boat. If you bought your shrimp already prepped, then skip this step, obviously. Regardless, make sure you rinse your shrimp in cold water and let them drain in a colander in the sink while you do the rest of the prep work.

Next you want to make your marinade. In a glass bowl large enough to hold all of your shrimp, you will zest/grate the peel of one lime. 

Zesting is somewhat of a pain, but it's also one of those therapeutic kitchen activities after a long day of work. I use visualization techniques to get some particularly aggressive zesting going on.

There. Once you have that, slice your lime in half and squeeze (or ream, as depicted below) the juice from both half of the limes into your glass dish along with your zest.

The next step is to throw the rest of your marinade ingredients in and mix well with a fork. Taste the marinade to see if you like how it tastes...remember, this is all about you! It won't do anyone a lick of good if you follow my measurements exactly and it's not to your particular flavor palette. 

Alright, now that we have the marinade taken care of, we turn our attention back to the shrimp. If they're still wet, pat them dry a little bit with a paper towel, then dump the shrimp into the marinade. I know we all wonder why we dry the shrimp before immediately putting them into the marinade, but if you'll notice, water wasn't one of the ingredients in the marinade. Water and oil don't mix. If they are wet, they will repel the marinade and it won't absorb as much and then you have bland shrimp. Capice?

Let the little guys sit on the counter and marinate for about 30 minutes. You don't want to go too much longer than that because the acid in the lime juice will actually start to break down the proteins in the shrimp, which are pretty delicate, and will alter the texture of the shrimp. Now is a good time to make a side dish if you want, or to have a glass of wine.

About ten to fifteen minutes before you want to start cooking the shrimp, start pre-heating your grill. J is in charge of the grilling side of this operation, and he advised me that he turns the grill on medium to start the pre-heating process, then turns it up to medium high a minute or so before he actually cooks the shrimp. You'll also want to soak your skewers in water to keep them from catching fire on the grill.

After the shrimp have marinated, you'll stick them on the skewers, like so:

Get all your shrimp on skewers (I try and make sure I have an even number of skewers and shrimp since the most bitter fights in our household are about who got the extra shrimp), and then take them to the grill. Place them like so, over medium-high heat:

J says that at this point, the shrimp cook pretty fast so you have to watch them. He closes the lid of the grill, but after about three minutes on one side, it's time to flip them.

Sorry for the blur, that was an action shot as J was flipping. They pink up pretty quickly, and for the love of Pete, do not overcook your shrimp. Ruins all our hard work at marinating and zesting and what have you.

Cook for another three minutes or so on the second side and remove from the grill. They should not be translucent anymore, but still tender to the touch with some lovely grill marks on them.

Simple, no? Just serve, and enjoy!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crabs

I found these gems at a local seafood market just down the street from my new home, called The Fisherman's Dock. They were still alive and wiggling when I bought them, so I knew they'd be fresh, which I really think is the key with seafood. The fishmongers were kind enough to clean them for me, so I don't know that process, but hey, they were delicious, and VERY easy to make. We ate these bad boys by themselves, but I could easily see making a delicious po boy with them, or serving them up with some paella.

Total Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Cook Time: 15 minutes

What you will need:

Softshell crabs, cleaned and gilled (get the fishmonger to do this for you), the fresher the better
3 tbsps of plain flour
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Old Bay seasoning, to taste
Grapeseed or Canola oil, some oil that you can use for panfrying that has a high smoke point. Expect to fill a non-stick pan about 3/4 of an inch full of oil.

First you will set up your "assembly line." There should be one plate with the breadcrumbs and some old bay mixed together, a bowl with the egg gently beaten, and the crabs, sitting next to a small glass bowl with the flour and a bit of old bay mixed together in the bowl.

Rinse your crabs and pat them dry with paper towels. The drier they are, the easier it is to get the coatings to stick. Then, in a small glass bowl, mix your flour with old bay seasoning. It's as much as you want to taste; some people really like the flavor and others only want a hint of it. Mix it together with your fingers in your small glass bowl.

Next, you will dust your crabs on both sides with the flour mixture.

Mmmm, crabby.

After you get them dusted with the flour mixture, dip them in an egg bath. They don't need to be soaked, just lightly bathed in the egg mixture both back and front. Make sure all the legs get some egg on there, too.

Next, transfer them to the breadcrumb plate. Again, the breadcrumbs should be mixed with old bay, to taste. You're going to taste more of the seasoning in this stage, so keep it in mind when adding seasoning. You can also add some cayenne pepper or cajun seasoning here, if you'd like to alter your flavor profile.

Next, in a non-stick skillet, heat approximately 3/4" of oil to a high temperature. The oil will shimmer, and you want to stop it from overheating and smoking. Keep an eye on it. The way that I figure out whether it's hot enough is by taking a small bit of breadcrumbs held together by leftover egg wash and throwing it in the oil to hear whether it's "sizzlin hot." If it's not sizzling, then it's not ready.

Once it's ready, lay your crabs down with their legs spread. Now there's a sentence you wouldn't expect to read in a cooking blog.

I know the temptation is great to keep flipping them and checking them out. You have to trust that they are cooking and leave them relatively undisturbed, approximately 4 minutes on the first side. Then, flip them and they should look like this:

Cook for another four minutes or so, then flip one last time to make sure they are cooked evenly on both sides. Then remove to a paper-towel lined plate.

Let them drain and cool for a minute or two, then serve and enjoy!!!

Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas

So in my last post, I let you guys know how to make pulled buffalo chicken. You can use it in several different contexts: on salads, in sliders, and, our personal favorite, in quesadillas. They are quick and delicious for dinner, or for heavy apps for a tailgate party.

What you will need (sorry, no picture was taken)

a bowl full of the buffalo pulled chicken, slightly warm
1/2 bag of mexican blend shredded cheese (finer shreedded, the better)
flour tortillas (any size you prefer, but make sure it'll fit flat in the bottom of one your non-stick skillets)

First, put a non-stick skillet on the stove and put the heat on medium or so. Place a flour tortilla in the skillet, then sprinkle with cheese.

Wait approximately three minutes, until the cheese starts to melt a little bit. Then slurp on some buffalo chicken, but only put it on one half of the tortilla. Once you put it on one half of the tortilla, you will use a flat spatula to fold the other half over, sort of like an omelette:

Press down on the top of the quesadilla to get the cheese to "fuse," then flip over to make the other side crispy.

After about two minutes, remove to a plate and use a pizza cutter to cut the quesadillas. Serve and enjoy!!!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crockpot Pulled Buffalo Chicken

This meal takes some time to make initially in your crockpot, so I often make the pulled chicken on a Sunday while I'm at home doing domestic chores, then I make quesadillas and sliders with the chicken through the week. It's a MAJOR hit, and J asks for it quite often. It's good for potlucks and tailgate parties as well...quite the crowd pleaser!

For the chicken...

Total prep time: 10 minutes
Total cook time: 5 hours, 30 minutes

What you will need (for the chicken):

A crockpot
3-4 chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
One package of Hidden Valley Dry Ranch Mix
12 oz Frank's Wing Sauce (you can use a little more to add some more heat if you want)
2 tbsps butter
1 tbsp minced garlic

This is the beauty of a crockpot recipe. Literally, all you are going to have to do is dump all of the ingredients in the crock pot and let it cook. But to be more specific:

Place your chicken in a single layer in your crock pot, then put the ranch mix, garlic, and butter on top of the chicken. NOTE: Some people prefer to use the entire packet of ranch mix. I find that it actually makes the meat much more salty once it cooks down, so I tend to use about 3/4 of the packet. Experiment and see what works for you!

Then pour all of your hot sauce over the dry ingredients and shmear it around to make sure your chicken is covered.

Cover the crock pot and cook on low for about 5 hours. Don't be afraid to leave the house while your crock pot is on; that's the whole point of the crock pot. When you get back, take your chicken out and put it on a cutting board. It should look something like this:

You know you are on the right track if it starts falling apart as you take it out of the crock pot. If it still seems slightly tough, you can let it keep cooking for another 30 minutes. But if it's ready, use two forks on each piece and just start moving the forks back and forth on the meat to "shred" or "pull" the chicken breasts into stringy pieces.

Once you have shredded the entire amount of meat you have, dump it all back in to the crock pot and mix it around to allow it to absorb the juice. Let it cook for another hour on low.

Then, use it to make quesadillas (pictured above and to be described in a separate entry), or sliders with miniature hawaiian rolls and coleslaw stuffed inside. Delicious!!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Baked Ziti

This is one of the first dishes I ever learned to make. It's not gourmet, and it's not healthy in any way, but it is a crowd pleaser. Two bags of cheese, three jars of sauce, a whole box of pasta? What's not to love?

Total Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Cook Time: 50 minutes


1 box of tubed pasta (I use Rigatoni usually as I find the ridges hold more sauce)
1 package lean ground meat (I use turkey, but if you prefer ground beef, then go for it)
3 jars of pasta sauce (your favorite kind)
2 8 oz packages of shredded mozzarella cheese (I also like the italian cheese blends, but J does not)
Italian seasoning
Salt/pepper to taste

I also use a disposable lasagna pan to make this because scraping the cheese off of my glass baking dish is kind of a pain in the butt. It's $3 that makes my life way easier.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Set your pasta to boil in a large pasta pot with some olive oil in the water to keep the pasta from sticking. You'll want to use a bit more than you may normally use because you really don't want these noodles to stick.

In a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, brown your ground meat. Season with italian seasoning, salt and pepper as you brown.

Once your meat is mostly cooked, drain off the excess liquid/fat that has accumulated in the skillet. Set the meat aside. After the pasta is cooked, drain and let it continue to drain in a colander. In the same pot you cooked your pasta, dump two and a half jars of sauce, and set over medium heat. Season accordingly with the italian seasoning, and add the browned meat.

Let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes. Then, in your baking dish/lasagna pan, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom.

Layer a fine layer of shredded cheese over the sauce.

Next, add a layer of noodles.

Repeat the process. When you add the sauce this go-round, be a little more heavy handed. This is where the bulk of the goodies go. 

After you get the second layer of noodles, you'll want to add the rest of your sauce. I typically have run out of the meat sauce at this point, and that's where the extra half of a jar of sauce comes in handy. Also helps get into the corners of the pan. Then, load it up with the rest of the cheese. 

Throw that puppy in the oven at 375 degrees for about ten minutes, just in time for the cheese to get melty. Then, pull it out and sprinkle with italian seasonings. Throw it back in for another ten to fifteen minutes, until it's bubbling and melted. After that, pop on the broiler and WATCH IT LIKE A HAWK. No more than three minutes. Yank it out when it starts to develop delicious brown spots.

Allow to cool/rest/congeal for about five minutes, then serve and enjoy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

Who doesn't love a good potato and leek soup? It's thick, creamy, and full of flavor. There are a billion recipes out there for anyone to follow, and I developed my recipe after reading a few of them, but it's based primarily on one of Emeril Lagasse's recipes (fact: Emeril has posted at least four versions of Potato and Leek Soup on his website). I think this just proves there's no one right way to do it.

One side note: I have found that one of the best kitchen tools to have for making soups is an immersion blender. This is the immersion blender I have. A $25 tool which eliminates the need to clean up a food processor (or spill half of your food trying to get it into a food processor), or a blender. It works great for milkshakes and hot chocolate too.

Total Prep Time: 25 minutes

Total Cook Time: 45 minutes

What you'll need:

3 medium sized leeks
4 russet potatoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine (yes, that is Dave Matthews' wine in my picture. His reds are better than whites, so this has been relegated to cooking purposes)
40 ounces of chicken stock (to make this vegetarian or kosher, you could use vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream

First things first: Open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a drink. You deserve it.

Next, peel and dice your potatoes, then put them aside. You want to dice the potatoes in a medium dice, but the important thing is to try and get them to be somewhat uniform in size so they cook evenly.

The next step is probably the most annoying step. You're going to trim, wash and dice your leeks. Leeks themselves are some of the dirtiest vegetables you'll ever work with, no matter where you purchase them (in fact, I think Whole Foods probably brags about how much dirt is in its leeks, because more dirt = more organic). So it's very important to pay attention when you're prepping your leeks, because the easiest way to ruin a good soup is to end up with a mouthful of dirt.

Take a leek and cut off the bottom, flat end, like so:

Next, you're going to want to cut off the dark green part of the leek. It's hard to exactly figure out where the useable part of the leek ends, so sometimes you just have to try and cut. You can figure it out because if it's useable, the leek gives pretty easily and uniformly under your knife, rather than feeling like you're trying to saw through some palm leaves. DO NOT DISCARD THE DARK GREEN PARTS OF THE LEAVES YET.

As you can see, I misjudged the unusable part of the leek
Take the tender light green/white part of the leek and slice it in half, lengthwise.

When the leeks are cut like this, it's easiest to wash them. Hold the leek halves under running cool water and loosen the layers gently with your fingers, allowing the water to run through. Check for any stuck-on grit or dirt--it's very apparent. Then return the leeks to the cutting board and dice them uniformly.

In a large saucepan (I use a 4 quart saucepan that has handles on both sides), melt 2 tbsp. of butter on a medium heat. Once the butter starts to bubble a little bit, throw the leeks in and stir with a wooden spoon gently to mix the butter on to the leeks. Let the leeks cook for about 5 minutes, or until they become tender and somewhat translucent.

Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine (you could add an extra splash or two without hurting it) and raise the temperature so the wine will boil. After it boils, add the remainder of the ingredients--the potatoes, the whole sprigs of thyme, the bay leaves and the chicken stock. Then, add two of the largest, darkest leek tops after trimming the edges and rinsing. 

Gourmet tip: Emeril recommends that you make something called a bouquet garni using these leek leaves and tying up the thyme, bay leaves, and also a handful of peppercorns in between the leaves. I tried doing this exactly once, and all of the peppercorns escaped the bouquet garni and I cut myself on the stupid leek leaves, so I decided that I'd just go fishing for the remnants at the end of the process. It tastes the same.

Liberally salt and pepper the mixture. Usually I recommend conservative salting and peppering, but this recipe needs more salt and pepper than you think it does. Trust.

Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes. Taste the mixture to make sure you're happy with the flavor profile, and then also check to make sure the potatoes are tender. Turn the heat off (or move the saucepan off the flame momentarily) and remove the dark green leek leaves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme (most of the little tiny thyme leaves will have fallen off of the stalks, which is perfectly acceptable, but you want to get the stalks out of there). 

Now it's time to blend. If you're using a food processor or a blender, you'll transfer the mixture in the amounts that your equipment can handle. But here's why the immersion blender is so great: NO MORE DISHES. No transferring boiling hot liquid and spilling it on you and in the crack between your oven and your counter. Just, one pot, instant creamy goodness.

After you get a smooth consistency with the soup, ladle into individual bowls and seve. You can put a tiny dollop of creme fraiche or a swirl of heavy whipping cream on the soup to make it fancy and to add an even more luxurious, rich taste, but it's really quite delicious without the extra dairy.  Serve, and enjoy!