Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Shrimp Tacos

It's no secret that I adore seafood in all it's forms and shapes.  And shrimp seems to have a special place in my heart.
  Growing up, shrimp was prohibitively expensive and we rarely had it but when we did it was a real treat!  The texture and sweet taste made it so memorable in my mind.
  The number one rule when cooking shrimp is to make sure it is not overcooked which results in a rubbery tasteless waste of food.  I remember watching a friend dump a block of frozen shrimp into boiling water.  I cringed...I knew by the time it was done that it would be an abomination...and it was!
  The best way to thaw frozen shrimp if you're pressed for time is to put it in a bowl under tepid running water.  It takes very little time at all.
Several days ago I was hungry for something a little different for lunch.  Looking at the tortillas on the counter and remembering I had some frozen shrimp in the freezer, I had a tasty idea which sent me to the Internet.  By the time the shrimp had thawed, I had everything ready to go.  Yeah, it's pretty quick which makes it even better!

Shrimp Tacos

8 oz medium shrimp, patted dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon of olive oil plus more for frying
6 corn tortillas (either fried or softened depending on how you like your tacos)
Any toppings you like such as: lettuce, tomato, avocado, guacamole, sour cream, hot sauce....

Combine all the ingredients except the tortillas and toppings and let marinade for at least 20 minutes covered in a cool place.
Heat olive oil in a pan and add shrimp stirring just until done.  (Do NOT overcook)
Divide among prepared tortillas and enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Italian Lemon Cake

  Several years back while considering my next trip to Italy, I came across a wonderful cookbook in my local bookstore.
  Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz turned out to be one of those books I treasure not only for it's delicious recipes but also for his inclusion of food history for the region of Campania.
  One of those recipes which I have returned to time and again over the years, is his delightful lemon cake not to be missed by true citrus lovers!  It`s one of those marvelous cakes that gets a good soaking of lemon syrup while it`s still warm penetrating the tasty crumb making it moist while adding another layer of mouth-puckering sensuousness.
  The original recipe calls for the zest and juice of 4 large lemons but you may only need 2 or 3 depending on how large your lemons turn out to be.  In any case, you want enough to make a half cup of juice.

Italian Lemon Cake

12 tbs (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 or 3 large lemon juiced (enough for 1/2 cup of juice) and rinds grated
3 cups all-purpose flour, measured after being sifted
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour a 9-inch bundt or tube pan.
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl when necessary.
Beat in lemon zest.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.
Fold half the flour into the butter, sugar and egg mixture, then stir in half the milk.  Fold in the remaining flour then stir in the remaining milk.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean
While the cake is baking, make the lemon syrup.
In a small pan combine the 1/2 cup of sugar with the 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Let the syrup cool for a few minutes and then add the lemon juice.
When the cake is done, let cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
While the cake is still warm but not hot, make holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick and slowly pour the syrup over it letting absorb after each addition.   Save about 1/4 cup of the syrup.
When the cake is cool, invert onto a serving plate.
Boil the remaining syrup until it thickens a bit.  Brush the syrup on top and sides of cake and press slivered almonds onto the sticky surface.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Brazil Nut Cake

  It seems that behind many a recipe there lies a story....this is no exception.
  In 2014 I went to visit some online friends in Belém, Brazil.  While there we went to the famed Ver-o-Peso Market where I spotted huge bags of Castanha-do-Pará (Brazil nuts) for next to nothing.  Never being able to pass up a bargain (thanks to my late I bought a big bag to bring home...
  Okay...the only time I ever saw Brazil nuts growing up was at Christmastime when they would be sitting there, like an oversized member of the nut family, amongst the almonds, pecans and walnuts.  Being the most difficult nut to crack, they wouldn't be eaten as often as their cousins.  So, I had little idea as to what to do with so many of them!  I stashed the bag in the freezer and set about looking to see what people did with them in their native region.
  If there is anything I love more than baking it's baking something that is new and different, so I was very happy to find recipes for Brazil nut cakes!  After playing around with the recipes, I came up with one that I was satisfied with.  Be sure to toast the nuts to bring out the flavor of these South American gems!

Brazil Nut Cake

200 gr butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup coarsely ground Brazil nuts

Powdered sugar
1/2 cup ground Brazil nuts

  Preheat oven to 350°F and roast 1 1/3 cups whole Brazil nuts on a rimmed baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly toasted shaking the pan half way through to assure uniform toasting.
Remove pan from oven and let nuts cool.
  Pulse cooled nuts in a food processor until coarsely ground and set aside.
  Increase oven heat to 375°F
  Generously butter and flour a tube or bundt cake pan and set aside.
  Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.
  Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time incorporating completely after each addition.  Add vanilla. Scrape sides of bowl as needed.
  Alternately, add flour mixture and yogurt beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Scrape into prepared cake pan and level off.
  Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes.   Lower heat to 350°F and bake an additional 40 to 45 minutes or until an inserted cake tester comes out clean.
  Cool on a rack and unmold cake.
  Sift powdered sugar on top followed by ground Brazil nuts.
  Serve plain or with whipped cream.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Italian Meatloaf

Think of this as a giant meatball!  But instead of pairing it with pasta, I can't think of anything that goes better with this than good old mashed potatoes.  In fact, that is what I made for dinner last night.
The sauce that goes on top, I use for lots of different things.  It's my go to sauce for pizza and the one I use when making eggplant parmesan.
And the nice thing about it is the ease and speed with which it's made.  Simple, fast and delicious!

Italian Meatloaf

8 oz ground beef (chuck)
8 oz ground veal
8 oz ground pork
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup ketchup
2/3 cup plain unflavored breadcrumbs
1 cup grated pecorino romano
Salt and pepper to taste
My basic tomato sauce (recipe below)
Grated provolone

Preheat oven to 350° F
Mix all the ingredients (except tomato sauce and provolone cheese) together. (This is one case in which I believe it best to roll up your sleeves and dive in!  With impeccably clean hands of course!)
Shape into a loaf and place in a baking dish.
Pour some of the tomato sauce over the meat loaf followed by the grated provolone cheese.
Bake for 50 minutes to one hour or until a thermometer reads 155°F in the center of the meatloaf.
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.

Tomato Sauce

2 cups passata (tomato puree)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
6 or 7 basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic in olive oil very briefly.  Add tomato puree, and sugar and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until a little thicker.  Remove from heat and stir in basil and salt and pepper.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Peanut Butter Cake

  Some years ago I was involved in an online food group that put together a cookbook in an effort to raise money for cancer treatments for one of our members.  A member from Canada, Dave, submitted this recipe for peanut butter cake.  As the saying goes, "it was love at first bite."  In addition, it was also the answer to a problem which plagued me and other members of our family.  What to make for my sister-in-law who couldn't eat chocolate but who loved peanut butter beyond words?
  This is always a hit and the icing on the cake is...well, the icing on the cake, a peanut butter butter cream frosting that will guarantee a clean-licked bowl and set of beaters to match.
  Enjoy this foolproof cake and the accolades that are sure to follow.

Peanut Butter Cake

1/2 cup butter (room temp)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs (room temp)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 350°F
Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan.
In a stand mixer, cream butter, peanut butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl when needed.
Stir in vanilla.
Sift together flour, soda and salt.
Add to cream mixture alternatively with water beginning and ending with flour.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes on a rack and then remove from pan and cool completely.
Frost with Peanut Butter Frosting below.

Peanut Butter Butter Cream Frosting

1/4 cup butter (room temp)
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons whole milk

Cream butter with peanut butter and add vanilla.
Add sugar alternatively with milk until light and fluffy.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Oxtails Viccinara Style

  Several weeks ago while in Rome, my companion and I were fortunate enough to happen upon a restaurant that featured several classic quinto quarto (or "fifth quarter") dishes.  This expression, quinto quarto, refers to the parts of the animal that, at one time, were discarded in favor of the better cuts.  They include the liver, heart, thymus glands etc..
I ordered the oxtails which came with a plateful of moist towelettes because at some point, a mere knife and fork will not do the job and you have to eat these messy morsels with your fingers.  (It's worth the less-than-delicate-dining, believe me!)
  Looking around for a recipe for this popular item was a breeze.  However, I decided to combine what I considered to be the best of the three that I looked at which included one by The Queen of Italian Cuisine, the late Marcella Hazan,
another from The New York Times and, finally, a recipe from a book I recently picked up about Roman cooking called Tasting Rome by Parla and Gill.  Borrowing from each one, I came up with a pretty decent recipe which made enough sauce to dress a pound of pasta as well.

Oxtails Viccinara Style

3 pounds oxtails
Kosher salt
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup chopped guanciale or pancetta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups white wine
1-14oz can tomatoes, crushed with your hands in a bowl
Salt and pepper
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  The day before, sprinkle the oxtails with kosher salt, put them in a zip lock bag and store in the refrigerator.
  The next day: Put the oil, carrot, onion, parsley, garlic and guanciale in a large dutch oven or pot and saute until soft.  Turn up the heat and add the oxtails, browning them well on all sides.  If necessary, do them in batches.  Remove and set aside.
  Add the tomato paste and cook it, stirring, until it becomes a deep brick red.
Add the the white wine and let it bubble for about 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the bits that may have become stuck.
  Return the oxtails to the pan along with the tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon and enough water to cover. Stir turning all the ingredients over several time.  Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and cover the pot letting the contents simmer lightly and cook for two hours.  Stir every half hour or so adding more water if needed.
  At the end of the two hours, add the celery and cook another hour.  Finally, stir in the cocoa powder and simmer for several minutes more.
  If you like, use some of the sauce to dress pasta for a first course serving the oxtails separately on a platter.  I would suggest a short fat cut such as rigatoni that can hold a thick sauce.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spaghetti Puttanesca

There are several stories as to the origin of Spaghetti Puttanesca (whore's spaghetti).  But I think the one I like the best is the one which states that the street walkers needed something quick and satisfying between clients.  And this is certainly that!  Quick and satisfying, that is! (You don't need to be a member of the world's oldest profession to make and enjoy this classic!)
There are also various versions of the recipe.  Some call for oregano and others don't.  The only herb I add to mine is fresh flat-leaf parsley.  But add whatever you like.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 dried Calabrian chilies, chopped. (or to taste) Or dried chili flakes.
1 28-oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
One pound of spaghetti

Put olive oil, garlic and anchovies in a skillet and cook stirring until the anchovies melt into the oil using the back of a wooden spoon.
Add chilies and cook briefly.  Add the tomatoes, capers and olives and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until very al dente.
Remove and add to skillet with sauce reserving the water in which you cooked the pasta.  Cook, adding pasta water as needed, until the spaghetti is al dente.
Add parsley and stir, turning all the ingredients over several times until everything is well combined.
Serve immediately with either Parmigiano  Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.