Category Archives: Culinary Chit Chat

Baked Shrimp with Tomato & Feta

What can I say?  Once again, Martha’s people inspiring me.   This is so easy, delicious, and a little outside of the box.  Throw it together in no time.   I usually change a few things in a recipe, but I had a hard time needing to fuss about this one. I just changed a few things that were minor – but  I’ve made it several times now, and never seem to change it much.  One thing I think is crucial to change, though, is to season the shrimp with salt and pepper before cooking.  There is salt in feta cheese, but the shrimp itself was a bit bland until I started to lightly season it before cooking.

For a family of four,

Gather This:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 thinly sliced scallions
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved – or about 6-8 plum tomatoes, cut into large dice
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined large frozen shrimp, thawed, tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • 4 ounces feta cheese

Do This:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees with rack set in upper third. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add scallions, garlic, and Italian seasoning; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until no liquid remains in skillet, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add shrimp and mint to skillet. Stir to combine; transfer to an 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dish. Crumble feta over top.
  4. Bake until liquid is bubbling, cheese is beginning to brown, and shrimp in center of dish are opaque, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with a light side of whole-wheat pasta, tossed with olive oil and lemon; and sprinkled with additional chopped mint.  If you’re in phase one of South Beach – just use some cooked green beans or asparagus tossed with olive oil and lemon and garlic for a great side.

The only other change I can think of making is that I use an oven-proof, non-stick skillet so that I don’t have to fuss with transferring to another dish and consequently cleaning more.  🙂    Please, if you’re going to skip the mint – don’t bother with the recipe! It’s the make or break, in my opinion.  What a great way to start off a low-carb diet!  That being said, this dish would also benefit from some delicious vesuvio-style roasted potatoes… mmmm!

This is the original recipe from Martha’s site: Baked Shrimp with Tomato and Feta .   It’s one of many recipes from a magazine I love, Everyday Food (Martha Stewart).  I’ve gotten it for the last four years.  If you’re looking for easy recipes like this you need to fork out the $15 for the best collection. Beautiful photos that inspire you to cook.  Are you kidding?  For me, food is so visual.  That’s why I’m trying to improve my photo skills for this blog.   Get this great book here:

 Everyday Food Great Food Fast

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Sorry, WordPress doesn’t let me paste a really cute looking ad here so the link will have to do.  Just take my word for it that this is a great investment! You will love this book.

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Romantic Interlude: A Menu with Butternut Squash, Scallops, Asparagus, & Truffle

Romance was in the air, and we had a beautiful 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne,  given to us in November by dear friends of ours, that needed to be made good use of.  My husband and I have had two failed attempts to go out for Valentine’s Day, due to sick kiddos and shortage of babysitters.  Alas, we resolved ourselves to celebrating at home, until such time as I am lucky enough to be served by someone else.

So, I surfed my usual recipe pages for something elegant and sophisticated, yet not to hard on the budget or difficult.  Scallops are a favorite shellfish for both of us; so I stumbled upon this recipe at the food network site:

Scallop and Truffle Mille-Feuille with Meyer Lemon Creme Fraiche and Truffle Vinaigrette

Names never scare me.  I knew that anything Emeril doctored up that I could barely pronounce had potential.  Sure, it called for truffles – and a couple of years ago I would have made the trip to Whole Foods to spend the $25.00 for the jar.  But I had some truffle oil in the cabinet which would do just fine for these tight-wad times of 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar, a truffle is a  delectable mushroom that is difficult to harvest, is grown in only a few places in the world, (mainly France) and therefore, costs about your monthly payment to your IRA.  Not to be confused with a chocolate truffle – which is a chocolatiers’ delicious sweet knockoff of the real thing.

This dish was superb. I changed quite a few things though, to make it easier, less expensive, and less time-consuming.

This is what I did differently:

1. I used regular lemons instead of Meyer lemons, because that’s all my store had.

2. I didn’t use any truffles. Instead, I very thinly sliced a few fresh baby portobellos (cremini mushrooms) for the presentation. Then, I used my black truffle oil to make the dressing and drizzled a little extra over the whole thing at the end.

3.  I didn’t buy puff pastry.  Instead, I happened to have some leftover phyllo dough sheets in my refrigerator from a recipe I had done over New Year’s.  Using a heart-shaped large cookie cutter, cut out a few stacks of heart-shaped dough, about 6 inches in diameter.  Then I quickly separated the heart phyllo sheets into stacks of two or three sheets on the baking sheet as per Emeril’s directions.   I brushed the tops of the hearts with a little butter melted in the microwave.  Then I baked them only for about 5 minutes or so. It’s a good thing I checked the baking hearts then, because phyllo is much thinner than puff pastry and I hadn’t accounted for that.  Lucky!  They were just golden and crispy.

4. I used tin foil in place of parchment paper for baking the heart stacks.

5.  I went on a wild goose chase to find Enoki mushrooms.  Normally, I would have prepared ahead of time, and found them easily at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  But this was a whim, so after visits to three major grocery stores within a square mile in twenty minutes – I finally found them at the fourth , a stinky Vietnamese market.  The shrooms were fresh. That’s all that mattered.  And it was the one ingredient I wasn’t willing to sacrifice – because it made the presentation.

6. No creme fraiche available at my local stores.  Instead, whole greek-style, plain yogurt was an equally delicious and a healthier substitute.

7. For the dressing, I used some of the fabulous champagne and white vinegar instead of store-bought champagne vinegar.  about a 2:1 ratio. You could use a dry white wine with good results.

Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini

We wanted a light dinner, but the scallop recipe just seemed a little too light – and while I was inspired by the dish’s sophistication,  I decided to do a soup for a first course so we wouldn’t be hungry afterward -as sometimes happens after a light and sophisticated meal.   In keeping with new commitment to health during Lent, I opted for a butternut squash soup from Giada DeLaurentis; she rarely lets me down, and I thought the texture would be creamy enough to satisfy my fat craving.

It originally was written to serve six as a first course, so I figured I could cut it in half and maybe still have a cup left for the kids to try the next day.  Besides, I was going the lazy way at the store – didn’t want an extra 15 minutes prep time cutting up squash –  and more than two bags of pre-cut butternut squash was just too expensive. When I got to the store, the only pre-cut squash was with a cinnamon sauce – but I could see from the bag, that  it was just a chunk of brown sugar that would melt upon heating.  So I just opened the bags and discarded the chunks of  cinnamon sugar and voila – I had pre-cut, unseasoned butternut squash for my recipe.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter – which is unusual for me, and it was PERFECT.  I’m not kidding you.   My husband said it was so fine, smooth, and velvety, and assumed it took a long time to make (it didn’t).   It was healthy and creamy, without an ounce of cream.  Unbelievable.  I was surprised by the ease with which this came together.    And, it could easily be a light supper, all on its own – perhaps even vegetarian, if vegetable stock were used instead of chicken stock.

A quick, traditional, French appetizer

Whenever I do a fancy dinner at home for the two of us, I like to do a very light appetizer or an amuse-bouche. We are lucky enough to have a new, authentic French (Basque-style) deli nearby, so we happened to have a wonderful country-style pate in the fridge. Then remembering that my mom had given me some small, vintage aspic cutters a long time ago, I was inspired to again incorporate the Valentine’s day theme.

I carmelized a few onions and added a little brown sugar to them to garnish the appetizer, and served the pate in the traditional way with some grainy Dijon mustard and toast points.

To round out the meal, my husband had also bought – in honor of our late celebration – some fabulous chocolate mousse and fresh pear pastries from the French guy at the deli.  It’s a good thing, because while I love to cook, I’m not one for making desserts.

When it was all said and done, this was a fabulous Valentine’s day celebration.  I wish I had taken photos of the beautiful dessert that DH had brought home for us, but I had been preparing our dinner for two hours, blogging simultaneously, and it was 9:30 pm by the time we got to dessert… so you’ll just have to imagine how pretty it was.

Here were the courses that I prepared, finished:

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Follow Me on a Culinary Journey!

I’m beginning this blog for a number of reasons.  But mainly, what I’ll do is to write about new recipes, and review them – every week.  I’ll tell you if you shouldn’t bother, or if you should invite the neighborhood to dinner.  Feeling brave? Send me one of your own.  I might try it – just be sure you’re ready to hear the truth – good or bad.

I’ve been inspired, recently, by watching the movie, “Julie and Julia”.  If you haven’t seen this, and you love to cook – it’s a must.  Not only did I love the movie for its content – the loosely depicted biography of Julia Child, Meryl Streep in all her glory, humor throughout – but I so strongly identified with the character Amy Adams’ character Julie,  who blogged about her culinary journey – that I was compelled to do something similar.  The French cultural reference is also near and dear to me, since I’m married to a French native who appreciates all my kitchen adventures.  But I’m not here to blog solely about French food – that’s much too limiting for me.

Like the character Julie in the movie – I, too, never seem to finish anything significant.  I have a happy marriage, two beautiful boys, and I work at home. Before that, I had relative success with mid-level careers. Those are the long term things. But I’ve also attempted writing a low-carb cookbook, a custom recipe-creating service,  a parents’ website, a free-lance writing career – all of which I didn’t complete, or haven’t been consistent about.

Life is crazy for my little Midwestern family. The economy is in the crapper, our business income has declined, healthcare costs are unmanageable, and, like a lot of parents, I’ve been trying to find the perfect part-time job that will accommodate my family lifestyle. I’ve diagnosed myself with adult ADD, and in my constantly sidetracked, overwhelmed perfectionist state of mind, the only thing I seem to be able to focus on is a short term task. Our life is very stressful right now.  I’m just trying to get through the day. Every few months I say to myself, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”  I still don’t know the answer. But, there is one thing that I am consistent about throughout my life:  COOKING SOMETHING NEW.

Whether I am single, married, younger, older, childless, parenting, dieting, binging, entertaining, working, staying at home, richer, or poorer – I take great joy in burying myself  in the creation of Giada’s Osso Buco, or Martha’s Greek Chicken Cutlets, or re-creating the look of some fabulous food photograph I saw in the latest cuisine magazine.  I look for ways to make them easier, yummier, more budget-friendly, more kid-friendly.  It’s something I do almost every day, and something I can write about, because I also love to write.  Cooking has held my interest all these years, because the act of completing a recipe is short term, so I’m able to focus on it. It gives me a sense of control and accomplishment, quickly – the needed fix for someone who is normally in a state of perpetual self-doubt. It can change with me, no matter what’s going on in my life.  I need cooking something new like a band-aid needs a cut. (huh? can someone give me a metaphor here?)

And so, for now, I can write about what I love, and maybe some readers will enjoy it.  Perhaps I can inspire you to try something new and break out of your ‘Wednesday is spaghetti night’ habit.  Or maybe, a reader will even challenge me.  Weekly recipe rotation is non-existent in my home.  And, even the family standbys are re-worked, revised, or improved every time I make them.

Come and take a culinary journey with me! Every week will be a new adventure.  I’ll try recipes from books, magazines, websites, my family, well-known chefs, and myself.  This is meant to be fun, but I’ll give you the truth, no matter what.  That may include ripping an occasionally recipe to shreds, if it’s deserved. But for the most part, you can count on reading about something great to make – with a few hints or tweaks from me to make things easier or better than what is written!

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