Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Dinner!

The main event! Slow-Roasted Glazed Pork Shoulder
Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes with Parmesan Garlic Bread Crumbs and Basil (recipe below)
I hosted Christmas dinner at our house this yea. My mom and brother flew in, since the day after Christmas is my mom's 60th birthday. We had twelve people over and I cooked a big, fabulous dinner, heavy with things I know my mom really likes. I made a glazed roast pork shoulder, which I've made a bunch of times, always to rave reviews. Then a bunch of delicious vegetable sides: braised red cabbage, sauteed cherry tomatoes with parmesan-garlic bread crumbs, fresh corn grits, and steamed green beans tossed with garlic, ginger and lemon.
And for dessert, I made my mom's favorite--creme brulee!
Creme Brulee! Also a great make-ahead party dish--just sprinkle with sugar and place under the broiler for a minute right before serving. 
From the right--tomatoes with bread crumbs, braised cabbage, roast pork, ginger-garlic green beans, fresh corn grits, green salad. 
I love cooking for a big crowd. There is only one thing to remember if you want to host a big dinner party and have a great time yourself:
Make everything you possibly can ahead of time. You do not want to be stuck in the kitchen, getting your cocktail dress smudged while your family drinks and enjoys themselves without you. I always make sure I have 20 minutes or less of work left to get dinner on the table, so I get to participate in cocktails and fun. 
For this dinner, I made the braised cabbage and grits ahead of time--they only needed to be rewarmed. The pork roasted all day--I just needed to make the glaze. I made the breadcrumbs for the tomatoes ahead, and the garlic-ginger-lemon sauce for the green beans. 
So 20 minutes before dinner, I put down my Manhattan and rewarmed the grits and cabbage, sauteed the tomatoes, steamed the green beans, made the glaze for the pork and assembled everything. I missed none of the fun and everything was hot and ready all at once. 
Me not missing the fun! Dinner is already basically done, so I can relax and get my drink on. 

I've put the pork recipe on the blog before, and here is a link to the original, which I first saw in Bonappit.

So I thought I would include two recipes for sides which were huge hits--the fresh corn grits and sauteed cherry tomatoes with parmesan-garlic breadcrumbs.

My goal with the grit recipe was to make grits that tasted more like fresh corn.
Fresh Corn Grits (makes enough for a dozen people or so)

3 cups frozen sweet corn
1 can creamed corn
2 cups of coarse corn meal
several cups (? don't know exactly how much I used) or reduced fat milk
salt to taste

What to do 
Place the frozen corn in a food processor. Blitz into little corn crumbs. This is a cool trick--you have just made corn meal out of frozen corn instead of dried.
Put the frozen meal into your big pot and add the creamed corn and coarse corn meal. Cover with milk and simmer, stirring regularly. Add more milk if looks dry. This should be creamy and about the consistency of a thick pudding.
Season with salt.

Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes with Parmesan-Garlic Breadcrumbs and Basil 

1 3-inch piece of Parmesan cheese
2 fat garlic cloves
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
6 clam shell packs of cherry tomatoes (try to get different colors)\
Large handful of fresh basil, chopped
Dash olive oil, salt, pepper

What to do
Put the garlic in the food processor and pulse into tiny specks. Then add the cheese and pulse a few more times, creating a coarse grind.
Mix the garlic-cheese mix with the panko crumbs and place into a dry nonstick pan. Toast over a medium flame, tossing frequently, until golden brown. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick saute pan. Add the tomatoes and saute until the tomatoes are hot and cooked, but not mushy. You will notice the skins start to wrinkle, but the tomatoes should keep their shape. You may need to work in batches. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Place the tomatoes in a casserole dish. Top with toasted bread crumbs and chopped basil. Serve immediately! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spicy Shrimp Stew

Shrimp stew on grits, with corn and mango relish. 
This recipe is fantastic--spicy and comforting, rich-tasting while actually being moderately healthy (what's a a little bacon when there are so many other vegetables?) It's like a less-creamy, more-tomato heavy, spicier etouffee. I made this on a Sunday--the stew needs to simmer a reduce for a couple hours, so it's the sort of thing to make on a day when you'll be putzing around the house anyway.
Also--I think serving this over grits results in a more-delicious shrimp and grits than the traditional recipe, which includes a lot of cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce.

Ingredients (in order of addition to the pot)
For the shrimp stock
the shells of the shrimp (2 or 3 lbs)
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, cut in half
the stems of the parsley (you'll use the leaves to finish the stew)
the root ends of the scallions
1 head of garlic, cut in half

3 slices of applewood smoked bacon
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 red onion, diced
8 big cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of white wine
12 large tomatoes (buy the ripest you can find) diced
1 habanero pepper, minced (with seeds)
1 package grape tomatoes (fine to leave whole--you will mash them later)
Salt to taste
2 red peppers, diced into large pieces
2 or 3 lbs of shrimp, peeled (save the shells to make the stock)
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 package scallions, sliced
Habaneros have a sweet, slow-burning heat. They're so spicy you only need one for the whole pot of stew--if you want a REALLY spicy stew, use two. 

What to do 
Start by making the shrimp stock, as it needs to simmer for awhile to develop flavor. In a medium sized saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add the shrimp shells and a sprinle of salt and saute in the butter--you'll see the shells turn pink. Cover with about 4 cups of water and add the onion, garlic, parsley and scallion ends. Bring to a boil, then allow to simmer for at least an hour.
When it's time to use it, you'll pour it through a colander so the liquid enters the stew and the vegetables and shrimp stay out (just throw these away).

When the stock has been going for 45 min or so, you can start making the stew!
Dice the bacon and add it to your stew pot, along with the two tablespoons of butter. Allow to crisp up and render.
After the bacon's crispy, add the diced red onion and garlic and saute in the butter and bacon fat, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine. Stir, getting up any bits burned onto the bottom of the pot. Boil until well reduced (there should be a thickened liquid on the bottom of the pot).
Add the tomatoes and habanero. Cover the pot until everything boils. Add the shrimp stock and stir. Use a potato masher to smash the tomatoes--you want them chunky and stew-y but not pureed.
Allow this pot to simmer for about two hours, uncovered. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing's burning to the bottom. It should thicken up and reduce while it simmers.
After two hours, add the red peppers and shrimp. Allow to simmer for ten more minutes--the shrimp should stay tender. Adding the red peppers late will allow them to keep their flavor. Taste for salt.
To finish, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chopped parsley and scallions.
Serve over grits!

This stew takes some time--but it's fantastic. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Easiest Ever Baked Brie

This recipe is courtesy of Eric, one of my favorite people.
Me, my brother, my sister, Eric. My apt on Colorado Blvd, 2010? About to head to Casa Bonita for "Reno Night"
Eric was / is my brother's best friend since middle school. They met when Kevin joined the school play in New York, shortly after my mom moved there. Kev brought Eric back to the house to play Xbox, and he fit right in! From then on he was sort of the fourth sibling--he made Christmas cookies with us, my mom yelled at him about his grades, he napped on our couch and cuddled my mom's wiener-dogs, volunteered my mom's museum parties, gossiped with my mom and grandma, wore amazingly chic, colorful clothing even on average Tuesdays.
Me and Eric in fake Mexico.
Eric was still living in my mom's bleak upstate New York town when I moved to Denver. I happened to have an unnecessary 2 bedroom apartment--so I started lobbying him to move to Denver and live with me. And he did! And promptly took the city by storm--Eric is a gifted maker of friends. We were roommates for a couple years. Before my first date with Adam, Eric helped me pick an outfit and did my hair--his advice was "something slutty. Not too slutty, but slutty" and that is the WHOLE REASON I AM NOW HAPPILY MARRIED! Thanks, Eric!
My brother, me, Adam, my sister, Eric--the wedding!
So Eric has a lot of positive qualities. But being a good cook--not one of them. As a teenager eating at our house, he claimed to hate "anything green". Then when we lived together in Denver, his diet consisted entirely of: a. Vodka b. Gummy worms c. Free drugs d. the sweat of sexy people he met on Colfax. Seriously. He ate nothing but candy and intoxicants, and mesmerized the mile high city with his homemade booty shorts. His idea of a home-cooked meal was opening some cheap wine and a bag of skittles. 
Well, imagine my surprise when Eric recently invited Bree and I over for dinner, and cooked an amazing, delicious dinner. He made pesto-stuffed chicken, broccoli soup, and this awesome baked brie recipe for dessert.He described how to make it, and I re-created it for two parties recently, where it was a huge hit.

This is the easiest possible thing to bring to a party, and everyone loves it.

1 brie 
1 package of croissant dough
about half a cup of jelly or fruit preserves (I used hot pepper jelly, because that's what we had)) 

What to do 

Unpeel the croissant triangles and lay them out on a cookie sheet making a star shape of sorts. Place the brie in the middle and put the jelly on top of the brie.
Wrap the brie with the pastry triangles. No part of the cheese should be showing--cover it completely.

Use the leftover croissant dough to cut out a shape for the top--for a friend's recent Bachelor party, I made a dong. 
Bake at 350 until the dough is golden brown. Serve while it's warm, alone or with crackers. 


Thai Wings

My absolute favorite thing to order in a restaurant is the Pad Thai Pig Ears from Euclid Hall in Denver. All the flavors of pad thai--but intensified. And instead of rice noodles--fried pig ears. Amazingly delicious and totally inappropriate--dirty food in the best way.
This recipe is my attempt to copy that dish--but cooking pig ears at home seems like a recipe for disaster. So I copied the sauce and used it for chicken wings.
These were phenomenal! Totally the best wings I've ever made.  I brought them to a co-worker's surprise bachelor party. I would serve them as hot as possible--mine got a bit soggy while we waited for him and his fiance to show up.

Thai Wings 

A dozen chicken wings (or more) 
1/2 cup of tamarind paste 
3 /4 cup water 
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce 
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar 
2 cloves of garlic 
2 tablespoons of chili-garlic paste (or any hot sauce--sriracha would be fine too) 

chopped mint
chopped basil
chopped cilantro 
crushed peanuts 
(about half a cup of each) 

lime wedges, chopped scallions, bean sprouts

Start by roasting the wings. Place them on a cookie sheet and roast on the oven's convection setting, at 400 degrees, for about 45 minutes, or until the skin is brown and crispy. 
While they're roasting, make the sauce. 
Place the tamarind paste in a small saucepan with the water and boil to soften up the tamarind. After simmering a bit, this should turn into mush. Smash with a fork or potato peeler to get it saucy.
When the tamarind is hot and liquefied, put it into a blender. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and chili-garlic paste. Blend!
When the wings are done, take them out and place them in a big bowl. Pour the sauce over them, and toss to coat.
Place on a plate and garnish with the chopped herbs and crushed peanuts.
Eat immediately!

I used tamarind paste that comes in a block. I bought it from the Asian grocery.
I made a small batch to test the recipe the night before the party. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Roasted Tomato, Pepper and Carrot Soup with Spicy Herb Yogurt

I distinctly remember the very first time I had tomato-garlic soup--it was back when my parents were still married, so I must have been somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade. We went out to dinner as a family to this restaurant in Chico called Basque Norte (just googled them--apparently they just sell marinade now), and I ordered the tomato-garlic soup and lamb chops and INSTANTLY REALIZED I LOVE TOMATO GARLIC SOUP.
Ultimately, the night went sour because my Dad was being a dick. (A few years hence we'd be unable to afford dinner out at a nice restaurant, but much happier because my Dad wasn't invited). 
Plus, who needs dinner out? In elementary school I developed my first tomato-garlic soup recipe. Here it is: 

Stir together:
2 cans of Campbell's tomato soup, diluted with water according to whatever the can says
A few vigorous shakes of garlic powder or garlic salt
Boil and serve in bowls or coffee mugs. Sprinkle with Cheez Its as croutons. 

That was great! And my first copy-of-a-restaurant meal recipe.
But in the years since, I've made a far more delicious, complex and wonderful tomato soup recipe. It's a lot more work, though. I start by roasting about 3 lbs of veggies with some balsamic, olive oil, garlic, and a sprinkle of salt. Then, I blend the roasted veggies and add some stock--that's it! This is more a template than a recipe--you could make any kind of vegetable soup by following this basic routine. 
Tonight I made a spicy, herb-y yogurt topping, too.


For soup
2 lbs Roma tomatoes 
1 package cherry tomatoes 
4 carrots
2 red bell peppers
1 head garlic
2 TB olive oil
2 TB balsamic vinegar
sprinkle salt 
2 white onions
2 cups white wine
2 TB butter
1 piece of bread (anything is fine--sourdough, wheat, white, etc)
6 cups of vegetable stock (I like to make my own--recipe below. But canned or boxed is fine. You could also use chicken stock)

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
Cut the veggies other than the onions. Quarter the Roma tomatoes, chop carrots and peppers into large chunks. Leave the cherry tomatoes whole. Peel a head of garlic. Toss everything together in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic, and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of salt. 
Veggies before roasting. 
Place into the 400 degree oven and roast, uncovered, for an hour.

An hour later--the veggies are fragrant, concentrated and soft. 
Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside to cool.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. 
Put the two onions in a food processor and blend into a paste. Put them into the melted butter and saute for about five minutes.
Pour the wine into the pot and simmer for about five minutes. 
I used this classy vintage. 
Meanwhile, scoop the roasted veggies and slice of bread into the food processor and blend. You may need to work in batches. 
Roasted Vegetable Puree. 
Add the pureed vegetables to the onions /wine/ butter in your pot. Stir to mix. 
Add vegetable stock and stir--bring to a boil, then turn the heat off. Taste--does it need a teaspoon of sugar to temper the tomatoes? A dash of lemon or some more salt???

Serve with toast, grilled cheese, or anything! 

Spicy Herb Yogurt Sauce

Blend together:
1 large container (32 oz) of 2% Greek yogurt
2 jalapenos, with seeds (remove seeds if you want it less spicy)
1 bunch parsley
handful of basil 
1 bunch scallions 
juice and zest of 1 lemon 

Yogurt sauce--bubbly as a result of recent blending. 

How to Make Veggie Stock
Add--carrots (3?) 2 heads of garlic, 2 quartered onions, then stems of your parley and the ends of your scallions to the bottom of a pot. Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Cover with 8 cups of water and boil, covered, for an hour. The veggies will become tasteless mush while the broths becomes fragrant and delicious. 
(Look in the veggie drawer of your fridge--anything about to go bad? Throw it in the stock)
Veggie stock ingredients. 

I toasted some bread with cheddar to dunk in the soup--YUM.
This was a great winter dinner--warm, flavorful and delicious. It's a bit time consuming, but worth the effort--though, if you're in a hurry, my original tomato-garlic soup recipe is pretty great, too.