Monday, June 28, 2010

And the First-Born Turns 29

My darling daughter turned 29 today, which may or may not be a problem for her, but is a little freaky for me!  I offered to cook a birthday dinner over the weekend and she (as usual) requested paella.

Paella is a good dish when you are having a group of people with different food preferences eat with you.  While I'm sure it is not the traditional approach, I group the seafood in one area so those who would rather not eat prawns or clams can avoid them.  I usually have chicken throughout the dish and I keep the chorizo large enough to identify so those who aren't fans of spicy sausage can avoid that.  I really don't mind people picking and choosing - after all, I want them to be happy!

Along with the paella I had a couple fruit dishes:  ribbons of cantaloupe with crispy prosciutto and watermelon with a lime dressing. 

And for dessert, peaches with vanilla ice cream, a bourbon caramel sauce and spiced pecans.  No picture because Bob was too busy eating to point and click!

Leftovers flew out the door and everyone went home with some extra treats for later.  We didn't sing or blow out candles, but it was still a happy birthday celebrated by Sean, Grandma, Bob and me - and of course, the birthday girl, Elisabeth!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crustacean Cornucopia

Since I'm not doing the Daring Baker's challenge this month, I thought I would write about some of the other cooking I did instead.

*********SEAFOOD ALERT!!**************
Warning:  If descriptions and pictures of little crustaceans are more than you can handle - scroll quickly!

On Thursday, while preparing for dinner, I got a call from Bob saying he was bringing home some crawfish - live crawfish!  Whoa!  This meant springing into immediate action:  checking internet for live crawfish recipes, finding the SwampFire Seafood Boil that I knew I had because I'm an impulse shopper with no self-control, and finding another pot in which to cook the little beasties.  Since I was already planning to have prawns for dinner and couldn't delay that since they were ready to cook and all the prep had been done, I had two large pots on the cooktop heating up to receive the bounty headed in their direction.

My plan for dinner was a new recipe from the New York Times.  The Yucatan Shrimp recipe is from a restaurant in the Sanibel/Captiva Islands off the west coast of Florida.  The restaurant, Doc Ford's, is owned by a writer of detective stories (I have one of his books waiting at the library), and the description of this recipe and its popularity intrigued me.  While they use Gulf shrimp, I'm not sure how viable an option this will be in the future.  In any event, I used other shrimp and it seemed to work.  The sauce is a butter, garlic, lime, and sambal oelek (Indonesian hot chile sauce) mixture, and a little jalapeno pepper and cilantro are tossed in at the end.

INSERT PERSONAL OPINION HERE:  I added the cilantro because Bob likes it.  I do not understand why anyone likes cilantro - it smells awful and tastes like soap.  I know there is a physiological reason some people dislike cilantro and whatever it is, I've got it.  I picked all mine off.

The whole dish is extremely easy to pull together but messy to eat, since the shrimp are cooked with the shell on.  Spicy, limy, buttery - yum!  I threw together a mango and pineapple salad with a little more lime juice and some mint to counteract the heat of the shrimp.

This clearly would have been a good meal by itself, but I still had the crawfish to cook.  I had heard about SwampFire seafood boil and promptly ordered some because I "had" to have it.  If I had a plan, I don't remember what it was, but as it turns out, it was the right thing to have sitting on the pantry shelf.

A true crawfish boil uses potatoes and onions and spicy sausage (andouille, perhaps), a lot of lemons and the crawfish.  Not only did I not have potatoes or andouille, I had no room in my pot for them.  Instead, I added several lemon halves to the seafood boil, and heated it up.  When the crawfish arrived, they did not need purging - they were very clean - so we just rinsed them off, Bob gloved up and transferred them to the boiling mixture.  About 6-7 minutes later, I turned off the heat and let them soak up the spicy mixture for a while. 

Another little aside:  Bob doesn't like to work for food.  When we have Dungeness crab, I spend time cracking and extracting the crab meat so he can just eat it without having to waste his time dealing with the shell.  Dungeness crab is a piece of cake compared to other crustaceans.  The meat is easy to remove, comes in pretty large pieces and it doesn't take too long to have enough crab to feed a couple people.  Crawfish, on the other hand, are a lot more work.  There is very little meat - just the tail of the critter - and it isn't easy to get to it.  The head, which you twist off, can (and should) be sucked, but the tail has to be broken open.  It takes a long time to get any amount of crawfish into your belly.  And I don't do crawfish for Bob -he has to do his own.

This was a messy, multiple-napkin meal and we didn't even start eating until after 8 PM.  There were leftovers since 2 pounds of shrimp and 75 crawfish are way more than two people can eat.  And there were lots of shells to dispose of and pots to empty.  But it was well worth the effort and last minute frenzy for this meal.  And I got leftovers for lunch!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pate' Party

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate' with freshly baked bread as their June challenge!  They've provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

Imagine - the French countryside - Provence, maybe - all lavender and sunflowers and breezes.  Old stone houses, quaint villages and wonderful shops with glorious food.  Now imagine the Pacific Northwest in the pouring rain - endless, pouring rain.  Where would you rather be?

No choice at all for me - home is home and I like the rain, even in June.  However, the food of the French can be very enticing and this month's challenge let me bring a little of that to my table.  A little pate', cornichons, chicken liver mousse and homemade baguette - maybe even a bottle of rose' - practically like being in some small bistro in an ancient village without the airfare or jet lag.
I love pate' and have several recipes set aside to try at some point, so this was a fun challenge.  I had to tweak the hostesses' recipes a bit because I had to delay doing this challenge until nearly the last minute and didn't have time to check a variety of stores for some of the ingredients that weren't available at my usual grocery store.  I decided on the pork pate' but also added some some strips of ham, which I did not process with the rest of the mixture, to give the pate' a more rustic feel.  It was porky and salty and had a great texture.  Perfect with the cornichons.

I also made a chicken liver mousse, which is not really a pate' but seemed to me to be in the same general family.  It was a pretty simple recipe.  I thought the end product was a bit underseasoned by itself, but it is served with a shallot jam which was rich and dense with flavor (shallots, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar), so the combination worked well.

The baguette recipe I used was from Ashley Rodriguez's blog, Not Without Salt, and is one of those supersimple breads in which all the ingredients are mixed together, kneaded lightly and then put in the refrigerator overnight.  I removed enough dough the next day to make one loaf and will be able to have freshly baked bread for a couple more days from the remaining dough.  It was crusty and tasty, but not as chewy as I would have liked.  I'll have to figure out why and see if I can fix that for the remaining dough.

Ta-da!  The pate', with bread and cornichons, and the mousse, with shallot jam. 

There's some good eats there!  Or perhaps I should say c'est magnifique!  (Please - anyone who actually speaks French, excuse my errors since mine is limited to reading menus!)