Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chili Lime Marinated Shrimp: For the Grill or the Saute Pan

Do you have plans for Memorial Day weekend?  

Here in San Diego, gloomy skies had taken over the city, but now our sunny, 70 degree weather seems to have returned just in time for the weekend.  In America's Finest City, that means everyone will be celebrating the long weekend with beach parties and barbecues.  If you live in an area of the country where it is not quite summer yet, maybe I can help you kick off the season by sending some sunshine your way... along with a great recipe for grilled Chili Lime Marinated Shrimp.  And guess what?  Even if rain ruins your Memorial Day picnic, you can go ahead and bring the sunshine inside because this recipe is just as good made in a saute pan as it is on the grill.    

Dried Ancho chili peppers.

Some meats or seafood seem to be made for the grill - for instance, a thick seasoned ribeye or a gorgeous swordfish steak just don't seem the same when they lose that dark char - but other things are just as good off the grill as they are on it.  In my humble opinion, shrimp are one of those great grill-to-stovetop transitional foods.  When threaded on skewers and grilled, marinated large shrimp cook quickly and they get a really lovely smoky flavor; they don't dry out and they are the perfect compliment to cool summer salads.  However, marinated shrimp also cook beautifully over high heat in a saute pan, and they can sometimes be even more juicy than when they are cooked on a grill.  

For this recipe, I marinated my shrimp with a classic combination of chiles, lime, and garlic (and of course, cilantro), and the results were fantastic.  For the heat and spicy flavor, I used Ancho chiles plus everyday red pepper flakes, and it worked extremely well.  If you have not used Ancho chiles before, they are extremely common in Mexican cooking and can be found in most grocery chains here in Southern California (check your local grocer).  Anchos are often used in cooked dishes, but I wanted to try them out in a marinade instead of fresh chiles - that way, I would be able to make my marinade at any time using only ingredients from my pantry plus refrigerator staples.       

Rehydrate dried chilis by soaking them in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easy White Bean Spread, for a Celebration Lunch with Family

A few weeks ago I got an email from Renee from Kitchen Conundrum that I had won a copy of Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love cookbook.  Yahoo!  To enter her contest, she had asked readers to leave a comment about a recipe they love to make at home for their friends and family.  Here is what I said: 

I love making classic chocolate chip cookies – everyone always loves them and fresh out of the oven there is nothing better. I would love to win this cookbook for my mom! :) **

Her question to readers was utterly perfect considering the "Big Bowl of Love" theme of Cristina Ferrare's new cookbook - the entire cookbook is devoted to simple, delicious recipes that you can share with family and friends.  Cristina describes each of the recipes in such a warm and genuine tone that it just makes you want to be home.  So naturally, her book and recipes made me think of my mom and how much she would love this cookbook.  Of course, when I actually won it I had a few self-indulgent moments paging through it and some more self-indulgent thoughts about keeping it, but in the end I gave it to my mom as a Mother's Day present; I knew she would appreciate it more than I would and it seemed like the perfect gift for her.  

But to make the gift even more perfect, I escaped home for two short days to surprise her and give it to her in person.  I combined a celebration of Mother's Day, my father's birthday, and my grandfather's 90th birthday (can you believe it!  Ninety years!) into a few whirlwind hours back in Ohio, and every moment of my time at home was precious and heart-warming.  Of course, we celebrated with birthday cakes and special dinners and lots of hugs and kisses, but one of the best times was a small, relaxing celebration lunch with my parents in our own backyard.  

I love my parents' antique-style knives.  I also love my mom's lilacs.

I set everything up so we could have a lunch that would be elegant enough to be 'special' but nothing that we would have to fuss over.  Life has been hectic for my parents (and for me) and I think we all really cherished time where we could relax, and just enjoy the pleasure of simple conversation and time spent together.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ana's Weeknight Broccoli Soup

I only recently decided that I actually like broccoli.  

For years, I despised it, avoiding it on veggie trays, picking it out of soups, and steering clear of casseroles and pastas with those pesky green crowns.  My boyfriend even used to make jokes about it - when we would go out to eat and I would order something that might have broccoli, he would smile and say, "I'll be sure to tell them you want extra broccoli."  I would usually roll my eyes, smile back, and reply with, "Ha, ha.  I know you think you're very funny."  (Incidentally, he is usually quite hilarious.)  

My aversion to broccoli was pretty strange, considering I am really not a picky eater, and I do enjoy most vegetables.  Plus, I am a big girl.  I know vegetables are good for me so I don't need to be coerced into eating them.  But still... Broccoli was always a sticking point for me.

Broccoli cut up and prepped the day before to make this soup even easier.

But now I would say I like broccoli.

I honestly don't know if my tastebuds suddenly took a liking to this veggie, or if it was just the fickle winds of change, but there was a definite turning point.  One day I hated broccoli, the next day I liked it.   

I can't say I love it yet, but I like it.  Sort of like with any new relationship, I am still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it, but broccoli is growing on me day by day.  We haven't had our first fight yet, so we are still in the honeymoon phase, but so far things are looking good.  

So in the spirit of celebrating my new found feelings for broccoli, I thought I would share an easy, satisfying way to enjoy this lovely veggie.  This recipe is from my good friend and super-mom, Ana.  She makes this recipe on busy weeknights, and believe it or not, her 2 1/2-year old daughter actually requests this soup all the time!  She looooooves her broccoli soup.  

I got to try Ana's Weeknight Broccoli Soup right after her second child was born - I was over at her place one evening, and she was chatting, entertaining her daughter, making this soup, and cleaning up the kitchen while balancing her newborn on her hip.  Yes, I did say she was super-mom.  But basically, the fact that Ana can multi-task and make this soup at the same time is just a testament to how easy it is - and that is something that any busy guy or gal can appreciate.       

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pasta with Scallops, Beurre Blanc, and Chive Buds

Sometimes life has a funny way of inspiring me. 

Last weekend, I had planned to make some smoky shrimp kebabs for a friend's birthday barbeque, so I headed down to Catalina Offshore.  I was hoping to score some nice large shrimp (about the 16-20 per pound size) that I could marinate and use for juicy kebabs, but it turned out that they had everything but what I needed.  Since I was there anyway (and they sell the most sustainable seafood in San Diego) I decided to pick up some of their bay scallops - I didn't really have a plan for them, but at $6.25 a pound, they were an inexpensive indulgence.   

Catalina Offshore bay scallops, sourced from sustainable fisheries in Mexico.

Now my problem was, I was excited about getting awesome scallops, but I still needed those shrimp; I had bought some pretty nice tiger prawns from the Asian market before, so I zoomed over there to continue my quest.  

(At this point I should probably mention that this was all happening early Saturday morning, at which time the Asian market is packed with families, old ladies, and generally no white girls like me.  I consider myself pretty fearless, but let me tell you, no matter how small he is, when an ancient Chinese man gives you a stern look that says, "What the hell are you doing in my market," it can make you shake in your boots.)  But I was on a mission, so I got in line, found exactly the shrimp I wanted, and headed to the checkout.  

On my way, I was (predictably) distracted by one magical treat after another, until I found I had wandered over to the produce section.  Immediately, these chive buds caught my eye because I had never seen them sold like this before.  I impulsively bagged them and added them to my cart, figuring some internet research would clue me in on how to cook them.   

Bundled Chinese chive buds from the Asian market.

Stems of the chives aren't hollow - making them a bit stiffer - and the flower buds are white.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't Forget...The Food Blogger Bake Sale!

Just a quick reminder that the Food Blogger Bake Sale is taking place all over the nation tomorrow, Saturday, May 14th!  

Here in San Diego the event will be at Great News Cooking School in Pacific Beach, and I would highly encourage you to drop by and: 
-pick up some sweet treats
-enter our raffle to win one of 3 Wilton baskets valued at $150 each
-meet some lovely and talented bloggers
-show your support for Share Our Strength - this fundraising event donates 100% of proceeds to end child hunger!  

If you missed my first post about this event, be sure to check out my Sweet Spring Sandwich Cookies and get all the details about Share Our Strength.  If you are not in San Diego, you can easily find the bake sale happening in your city by simply visiting Gaby's site.  And definitely visit Marie's site, because she was the wonder woman that organized this whole event in San Diego!  For more info, check out the flyer below.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sparkling Wine with Lemon Thyme Sorbet

I know what you're thinking.  

Mother's Day was yesterday... Easter is long gone... and sadly, the weekend is why in the world am I sharing this elegant fizzy beverage on a plebeian Monday?  

The truth is, I couldn't resist.  

I made this lovely drink over the weekend to share with friends and to honor my wonderful mother (whom I missed dearly on Mother's Day - too bad we can't share a hug over Skype!).  I figured if it turned out well, I would just keep it as an ace in my pocket to share with you for the next holiday or celebration.  But then I started making the Lemon Thyme Sorbet...and it was fresh and sweet and tart all at the same time.  Once the first frozen spoonful hit my tongue, the corners of my mouth turned up in a smile - the flavor was just somehow happy.

Then I got a little inspired and decided to put some sorbet in lemon 'cups,' and well, it was all downhill from there.  I was completely smitten by the taste, but the overall cuteness factor was just too much for me - and I hadn't even gotten to the wine yet.   

Lemon Thyme Sorbet, in lemon cups. 

Garnished with a little thyme, this would be the perfect special-occasion dessert.

Speaking of wine, I don't mean to brag, but I made an excellent choice - La Marca Prosecco. (Shh... I was actually helped by the recommendation of an awesome saleslady, but we'll just say I have good good taste.)  La Marca Prosecco got a rating of 90 points by Wine Spectator, and they describe it as such: 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rosemary Rice Krispie Treats, and a Weekend at Camp

Last weekend I was able to get out of town and head up to the San Bernardino Mountains for a few days.  

I attended Camp Blogaway - a getaway weekend for food bloggers, recipe developers, and photographers that is organized by the lovely Patti Londre.  The weekend serves as our time to enrich our sense of community and connect with one another and learn ways to improve and enhance what we love to do.  I truly enjoyed making new friends, catching up with old ones, and being surrounded by people who love and appreciate food (and all that good food stands for) as much as I do.  It was food for my soul (pun intended) to be in an environment surrounded by genuine people that have true passion.  And of course, the blue skies and clean air didn't hurt.          

Anytime I go out to the mountains in So Cal I always feel like I am going home; the real 'forests,' green grass, and birds chirping take me back to the Midwest where I grew up.  I definitely felt like that this past weekend, but I also felt a different sense of belonging that you can only really get when you are with a group of caring, like-minded people.  That sense of family was even further reinforced when we listened to Cheryl and Susan talk about their community of readers, and about how our online families extended beyond the connections we made with each other at camp to include each one of YOU that faithfully reads our blogs.  And for that I want to say thank you - for being part of my family - for supporting me when life is hard, for laughing with me when life is amazing, and for always appreciating good food and good friends.