Friday, September 20, 2013

Buttered Shrimp and Scallops with Tomato, Olives and Arak

I am two weeks behind in my posts about our little dinners and I am downright ashamed of myself. I have no excuses either, other than I just have not sat down to put pen to paper or, more appropriately, fingers to keys.

BUT, just because you haven’t read about our adventures, doesn’t mean they haven’t occurred. Since our summer hiatus ended, Foodie and Architect have both hosted, well, Architect kind of hosted.  She fell and sprained her ankle (a true damsel in distress situation complete with a local knight teacher riding in on a white horse Honda to save her) so Mr. Architect cooked one of his specialties for us.  A nice little dish of chicken, prosciutto, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese served on a bed of rice. Quite tasty.

I hope I don’t embarrass my friends with my little quips…that’s the nuisance of having a friend who is also a blogger.

Back to dinner.  Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about the cookbook Jerusalem.  Apparently, the book has caused quite a supply/demand quandary with local spice markets who can’t keep the spices used in the book in stock….spices we may not be as familiar with like arak, sumac, and za’atar.  A more common ingredient used in many of the dessert recipes is Orange Blossom Water and I just ordered a bottle on because I am so making the Semolina, Coconut & Marmalade Cake on page…well I don’t know what page because I have the damn Kindle version of the book (that’s the LAST time I do that)! You can read the NYTimes review of the Jerusalem cookbook here. 

Arak, btw, is an alcoholic spirit that tastes like anise.

There is a predecessor book by the same authors of Jerusalem called Ottolenghi and Foodie make a dish from it…Buttered Shrimp with Tomato, Olives and Arak except she added scallops too.

Buttered Shrimp (Prawns) and Scallops with Tomato, Olives and Arak
From:  Ottolenghi

4 plum tomatoes
12 large shrimp
1 lb. of scallops
4 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
4 teaspoons of Arak or Pernod
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse sea salt
Start by preparing the tomatoes.  Make a tiny shallow cross with a sharp knife at the bottom of each one and put them in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Remove, refresh under plenty of cold water, then drain.  Now peel the skin away and cut each tomato into wedges.  To prepare the shrimp, peel the shells and remove the dark vein.  Place a frying pan over high heat and when very hot, add 2 ½ tablespoons of the butter and sauté the prawns and scallops quickly for a few minutes, shaking the pan as you go along.  Add the tomatoes, pepper flakes, and olives and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp and scallops are nearly cooked through.  Add the arak carefully (it tends to catch fire!) and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute before adding the remaining butter, garlic, parsley and some salt.  Toss for a second for everything to incorporate in a runny sauce then serve immediately. 

We also had Grilled Broccoli with Garlic, garnished with grilled lemons.  It was Singer’s birthday so dessert was a vanilla birthday cake with goat cheese icing garnished with pistachios.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deep V Tee

I like writing these posts but since I cook more than I knit, my knitting posts are – shall we say – scarce?  I don’t mean for that to be the case, I really don’t.  I’m just a slow and careful knitter and, as we know by now, I get bored with knitting projects easily.  Not like Foodie who knits lovely garments. Everything she makes is meticulously crafted but she also has a keen eye for the perfect yarn to use; something I have not yet (and may never) master.    

At one of our shindigs, she wore this airy little deep-V tee shirt meant to be made using an earthy hemp-like yarn. Foodie used a linen and cotton slub yarn.  She says she loves the pattern and will probably make another; perfect for layering over sleeveless tops or dresses! The garment is worked from the top down, knitted back and forth, until the “V” and sleeves are complete, then joined and worked in the round.  The pattern is from Caron and was originally published in the Spring 2012 edition of knit.wear.  It can be purchased through here.

Meanwhile, while shopping at one yarn store we like, Slip Knot Knit, in Havertown, PA, we noticed a set of interchangeable circular needles. Using a set of interchangeable needles is a great way to have all the sizes of needles and cords you need just when you need them.  The set comes with various lengths of cords and, of course, several needles sizes.  Here's how a set of interchangeable needles work… you choose the length of cord and needle you need for the project at hand, then you screw the needles into the cord and, just like magic, you got yourself the required tool!  There are even size-specific markers included so you can come back to your project later if you choose to use the needles for another project! The sets are expensive -- about $90 --  but probably a lot cheaper than buying several circular needles in various cord and needle sizes.  Knitter’s Pride and Clover each make a nice set. 

Here is my current project….to be fair to me, I did not like the way a dropped-stitch correction look so I tore this back to row 10 (I was almost to row 50)!  This lovely, lacy little shawl (the kid mohair yarn from Italy has sequins…you know I love the sparkle!) is knitted back and forth on circular needles.  More on this project  that will be perfect for our upcoming fall weather later.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fresh Fig Cake

Recently, I’ve been having a culinary love affair with figs.
I could eat them however….sliced and tossed in a salad, fig jam slathered on cheese, stuffed with blue cheese, sautéed in a wine sauce and served on top of meat, fish or vegetables or just as a simple snack .  I like the beautiful Turkish variety luring me with its variegated, smooth, dark, mossy-aubergine skin.  The modest fig blushes when opened, revealing a unique and textured flesh that, to me, is luscious, intoxicating and addicting.
Oh wait, I’m writing about figs, right?  Sorry….I told you I was having a love affair, of sorts.

When buying figs, don’t shy away from a fig with skin that appears a bit wrinkled…it is very rare indeed that you will find a fig with perfectly taut skin (kind of like people!).  Look for a bent little stem and even though a split or two is okay, avoid any fig that is oozing at the stem or excessively spongy.  As with any fruit, check the bottom of the container for any liquid or mold and, of course, move on if either is present.

Figs are a member of the mulberry family and a good source of potassium, a mineral known to help curb high blood pressure (maybe that's why I like them). And if you’re trying to lose weight, the dietary fiber in figs can help you to effectively keep that pesky scale from creeping up. 
I think figs are just plain damn good and that’s why I decided to make a cake with figs as the leading lady.  I made my little masterpiece for a dinner party and – to my surprise – there was also a fig pizza appetizer and a wonderful side dish of sweet potatoes and figs with a balsamic vinegar reduction….it was a fig-a-go-go!  The cake added to the deliciousness…not too sweet, very moist and somewhat dense – the best kind of cake!  Perfect with a cup of tea.

Fresh Fig Cake

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped fresh figs
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups chopped fresh figs
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable oil spray. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add flour mixture alternately with the evaporated milk. Fold in vanilla and almond extracts and chopped figs. Divide into two prepared 8 inch round cake pans. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.

To make the filling: In a saucepan, combine 2 cups figs, brown sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. Let the filling cool and then spread thinly between layers of cake and on top.

If you can't find fresh figs, wait until you can to make this just would not be the same made with dried figs.  Also, the next time I make this, I’ll gussy-up the sides of the cake with sliced almonds and add some brandy or whiskey to the fig filling mixture...that would be tasty!  Regardless, this cake was so good and a HUGE hit.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sage Cornbread

Sometimes you just get a hankering for something.

And sometimes you realize that it’s a little easier to buy a prepared version of that something and gussy it up to suit the hankering at hand.

I hope I’m not the only one who does this….oh wait, I’m not…there’s someone who makes a lot of money doing this very thing, right?

Take cornbread.  I wanted to bring cornbread to a neighborhood dinner but I wanted a savory version.  Now, I know that cornbread is not difficult to make…I just didn’t have the right ingredients, including baking soda because I gave my baking soda to the kids on the block so they could made a volcano by mixing baking soda with vinegar (no doubt inspired by that fabulous Target commercial).  I am happy to contribute to any cause that encourages kids to use their imaginations. 
 So, I did the lazy efficient thing…I bought a box of Krusteaz Natural Honey Cornbread and glitzed it up with fresh chopped sage from my garden and melted butter instead of vegetable oil.  Next time, I will add more sage, but I've got to tell you….this cornbread was crazy good.  Moist and just the right amount of cornbread crumbliness.
According to Wikipedia, sage has been used since ancient times for many things including increasing fertility in women and healing snakebites.   I have no need for the fertility benefits of the herb, but there was a snake loose in the hood a few weeks ago that caused quite a ruckus!