Monday, April 27, 2015

Garlic Lemon Butter Shrimp

Whew.  It’s been two absolutely hectic weeks and I feel like I’m coming out of a long and rather challenging gauntlet.  My boss was here from overseas (Yes, I have a boss! So when I say I am a worker bee I really do mean it!) and we had a series of intense meetings.  That’s not to say that all this lay heavy on my shoulders.  Intense yes, but rewarding and exciting nonetheless.  Onward troops (as I like to say)!

Whatever the case though…I am feeling a bit raggedy around the edges but glad to find a spot of time to click-clack away at my keyboard and share some thoughts and a recipe with you.

Before the all the meetings commenced, a couple of weeks ago, we went on a lovely holiday out of the city to a little town called Urbiztondo in San Juan, La Union.  San Juan is a surfer’s town, a seaside gem of a place with fierce waves, long sandy shores, and friendly people.  I had never thought of exploring La Union before…simply because, well, not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t surf.  And if you know me, you will know that the only kind of surfing I will ever be inclined to do is couch-surfing with a good book.  But then I saw this post from a blog-friend and I was smitten.  To get me on a surfboard would be an insurmountable task but to get me to a bougainvillea-swathed cottage by the sea?  That wouldn’t take any convincing at all.

If I had been smitten by a few photos, the reality of this place enchanted me.  That white cottage right by the sea, fuchsia blooms crawling crazily up its sides.  A deck where we could dry our wet and sand-speckled swimsuits.  The airy veranda where we would laze around on white canvas covered sofas and native wood recliners while the children played in the garden, a ton of nooks and crannies to explore.  The long dining table where we had meals of grilled fish and pork belly al fresco.  The white picket fence that opened up to a wide shore and an untamed sea.  It was like another life, in another time…and perhaps it was.

And that sea, that sea so different from other seashores I had seen before (and we live on an archipelago so we have seen a lot).  Wild and careless, waves crashing, and in their wake the strong pull of current, sucking at my feet as I stood entranced before it.  It had a certain “edge of the world” feeling, so different from the mild, baby blue long shallows I was used to.  I could stand there and watch it for hours (or what seemed like hours), this seemingly untameable beast/beauty.  Something to be respected.  A surfer’s sea I suppose.  And me, not a surfer, but someone who easily falls under the spell of nature’s art.  Which this certainly was.

And the people – the friendly, warm locals who were so welcoming.  We came knowing nothing and no one but soon, even in our short time there, fell into their pleasant rhythm.  Yummy meals at the colorful hostel next door, and drinks and casual music there one night.  The sweet surfing instructors who taught Little C to surf (Yes!! Definitely a proud mommy moment!).  Impromptu beers after coming in from the water.  The children making new friends almost everywhere we went.  The adorable coffee shop that we kept going back to…admittedly not just for the friendly staff or their excellent “dirty white” (espresso dripped over cold milk on ice…life changing in this heat!), but the divine indoor s’mores (a heap of chocolate and marshmallows melted and browned in the oven, serve with grahams to dip and dig into the blissfully molten mess).  The kids loved it…sitting together on makeshift stools, sticky with sugar, leftover sunblock, and sweat, thinking of nothing but the next sweet mouthful.  And me watching them, for once not letting my mind skip two or ten paces ahead, but instead thinking of nothing but the next sun-kissed moment.

Garlic Lemon Butter Shrimp
  • 500 grams peeled and de-veined large shrimp
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton de La Vera
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon butter
  • the juice of one lemon, divided
- Season the shrimps with pimenton, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.
- Melt the 1/4 cup butter in a skillet over medium high heat.
- When the butter is sizzling add the garlic and sauté until fragrant but not brown.
- Add the shrimp and cook, a minute or so on each side, until just done.  Do not over cook the shrimp or they will become tough.
- When the shrimp is done add the 1 tablespoon butter and toss until all the shrimp is glossy and slick.  Remove from heat.
- Add half of the lemon juice, toss to mix thoroughly, and taste.  If you feel it needs more lemon start adding the other half, tasting as you go.  Season to taste with salt and pepper if you feel it needs it.  Serve immediately.

This isn’t something we had on our trip to La Union but it’s definitely something that feels so summery to me.  Plump shrimp cooked in butter and garlic, and spritzed with a bright note of lemon at the end.  Light and sunny and centered on seafood.  It’s also quick to make and enjoyed by most.  Perfect to prepare on a beach weekend…or on a weekend you wish you were at the beach.

This would also be great with some chili flakes tossed in with the garlic, but I was feeding kids so I kept things non-fiery.  I served this as an appetizer for a lunch at my mom’s and they were gone in 10 minutes.  C never even got to try them!  And the only reason I got a taste was because I snuck one shrimp while I was cooking.

Although I am back in the thrall of city life, its frenetic pace and hypnotic concrete towers reeling me in, as it always seems to do, the holiday’s faded glow still lingers on my shoulders.  I sit working in my tiny corner, like a million tiny corners in this city, giving off a collective glow of a busy hive – and I once again realize how much I love, unashamedly love, the city…its tawdry glamour, its too-fast pace, its hundred and one things to do, its unrepentant grittiness.  Even as my heart bursts at the sight of the sea and some part of me longs for wide-open spaces, the city still manages to lure my loyalties back with her honeyed whispers.  Maybe one day I will be free of her.  But until that day comes I am content to be her happy slave…with a few days off, once in a while, to play in the sea.

P.S. If you are planning a trip to San Juan, La Union don’t miss the coffee and s’mores at El Union and the grilled dorado, spicy crispy basil squid, and shrimp in tomato cream pasta at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel.  The little and big C took surfing lessons with the surf instructors in from on the Kahuna beach resort if you are so inclined.  If not, drag a book to the shore and enjoy watching the surfers!  If you are interested in the little house by the sea that we rented just let me know and I’ll send you the details.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Caramel Croissant Pudding

Have you ever had one of those days when you just needed caramel, croissants, and rum in the morning?  Don’t we all just have days like that?  When only sugar, booze, and French boulangerie, will help?

Well, if you are better able to manage your feelings, going out for a run or finding peace in your yoga class instead of calories in your pantry, then absolutely more power to you.  I wish I were that virtuous and disciplined.  But, just like the lady from where this recipe originated, when I feel up against it, it is carbs I crave.  And I have no qualms indulging myself.

It’s been quite a hectic past two weeks.  Work has been a wringer, the nanny was on holidays (yes, I have a nanny…I need help to balance family, home, work, friends, and me…and I am fully not opposed to procuring this help in any way I can or can afford to!)

Another thing I do when I am stressed, which is actually directly related to this dish, is watch old Nigella Lawson videos on Youtube before I go to sleep.  Don’t judge!  I know we aren’t supposed to be taking our gadgets into bed with us, and I’ve promised myself time and time again only books at bed, but when the day has been a particularly tough one, nothing sets me right like listening to her gorgeous voice talk about food and life and indulgence and not having enough time to brush her hair.  She just makes life seem beautiful in her very perfect imperfectness.  Or maybe I’m the only fool that sees that.  But fool or no, after watching her putter around and put together a meal, I close my eyes with a contented sigh, ready to face the day to come.

This recipe comes from one such video.

Caramel Croissant Pudding
(adapted very slightly from Nigella Lawson)
  • 2-3 stale croissants (depending on the size of the croissant)
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 125 ml cream
  • 125 ml full fat milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons rum (depending on how boozy you want it to taste, 2 tablespoons will give you a good kick)
  • 2 eggs, beaten

- Tear the croissants into pieces and put it in a small gratin or baking dish of about 2 cups capacity.
- Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and swirl around to start dissolving.  Place this on a hob over medium high heat.  Caramelize the sugar by letting this bubble away, without stirring, until it turns a deep amber color.  This should take about 3-5 minutes.  Caramel can go from bronze to burnt in seconds so do be vigilant about watching it.
- Turn the heat low and add the cream, whisking as you do, being careful of the spluttering.  Keep whisking and add the milk and rum.  Take off the heat and add a little of the caramel to your eggs whisking it in.  Add this mixture back into your saucepan, continuing to whisk.
- Pour, what is now essentially a caramel custard, over your waiting croissants.  You can leave this to steep for 10 minutes if your croissants are especially stale.
- Place in a pre-heated 350F over for 20 minutes and then enjoy with abandonment!

The video of Nigella making this caramel croissant pudding is one of my favorites.  I’ve probably watched it a million times.  It’s perfect before bed because it is set at night…when she comes home from one totally sophisticated drinks part or other, looking as lovely as usual, dressed all in black, a bottle of Maker’s Mark in tow.  She tosses her heels and jewelry aside and sets about making her post-party supper…this pudding.  Everything about this video I love.  The way she looks beautiful and happy and confident sans skinny figure and designer ensemble.  The way she makes caramel in the late hours of the night.  The way she slugs the bourbon into the mix.  The way she takes the pudding with her to enjoy cozily in her bed. 

It comes as no surprise then that I had to give it a go.  I had two stale croissants rattling around my freezer so the timing was perfect.  The only thing I changed about this recipe was using rum instead of bourbon simply because rum was what I had around.  Also, pay attention to the amount of croissants you have – my croissants were a bit smaller that their heftier European counterparts so I had to add about half a croissant more than the two that was called for.

I had this for breakfast, instead of dinner, and I can certainly concur that it makes you feel spoiled and indulgent – which is something we all need and deserve to feel – all for the price of two stale croissants!  Not a bad deal at all, all things considered.

It’s back to work for me now, but thankfully the holidays gave me a bit of time to catch my breath and recoup.  We stayed at home, I cooked, we slept in, took naps, spent time with family and friends…the best things to do in my book.  I hope your holiday was equally wonderful!  And, of course, that some spoiling and indulging were on the agenda.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lemon Butter Chicken

So many new places to eat are opening up these days.  Not just in my neighborhood (in which there are a lot of great new places to explore and turn into hangouts…yay!) but all over.  Our local dining scene has never been more vibrant.  It is truly a diners market where one has a dizzying array of choices.  There are those maverick independents whose delicious and creative offerings are the work of a brave soul armed with just his (or her!) passion and the desire to share it.  Then there is the multitude of seeds being sowed by big gutsy restaurant groups – whose fruit seems to be sprouting like wildflowers one on top of the other, both local concepts and exciting foreign franchises.  And every delicious drop in between.

It’s almost magic…that little trill of electricity that goes up and down our spine when we whisper that auspicious question: “Where do we eat?

Often though, despite the glittering siren song of dazzling new dishes put together by fancy chefs and daring cooks, what we crave for is a little closer to home.  Right at home actually, to be exact.  The homely looking, the unsophisticated, the familiar tastes and comforting flavors, those dishes that look frumpy and plain and unready at all for an Instagram feed.  Those dishes, homemade dishes, lovingly put together in our favorite pot, stirred through by our worn wooden spoon, scorched in parts and frayed in others, served directly in the cooking vessel, a tattered trivet slipped under it.  The nights when we can all gather around the table, saying a grace, or having the little one say it even if we don’t understand half of what she carefully mutters.  Slippers hanging on feet.  Little C, feet off the chair please!  My plate is chipped and I’m thinking, “When will we ever get another set?  We tuck in, ladle food out onto waiting plates.  Contented sighs. Simple joys. 

Lemon Butter Chicken
(Slightly adapted from Damn Delicious)
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton de La Vera)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup basil leaves
- Season the chicken thighs with paprika, salt, and pepper to taste.  Set aside.
- Place a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.  Add the 2 tablespoons butter.  When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the chicken pieces in one layer, skin-side down.  Sear on both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside.
- Drain excess fat from the pan then place the pan back on the heat with the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).  Stir in cream, Parmesan, lemon juice, and thyme.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat.  Cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the basil, stir until it is evenly distributed in the pan.  Add back the chicken, tucking the pieces in around the basil.
- Bake the chicken in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked through.  Serve immediately.

We cook some iteration of baked chicken regularly at our home.  Chicken thighs or leg quarters are a mainstay in our freezer for just that reason.  A tray of baked chicken is simple and frugal to prepare and can be dressed up or down with whatever you have right now in your pantry.  It also pretty much cooks itself – tucked away in the oven while you go about doing other important things.  Essential when you are a busy parent with two (oops, 3, the hubs counts too!) hungry mouths to feed.  Equally essential when you are single and need meals that don’t feed a battalion – baked chicken is so easy to scale down!  Here’s a single tip (from my own slightly swinging and single days): When buying a tray of chicken thighs ask the guy behind the counter to already divide it by two or three and repack it for you.  He will do it if you ask nicely.  It will only take a minute, does not change the price, and you will have small portions ready in the freezer for a solo meal (or a meal for two).

I chanced upon this recipe from Damn Delicious and I knew I needed to add it to my baked chicken rotation.  I was not mistaken.  This produces such a lovely, flavorful pan sauce…and if you live in a country that has rice in almost every meal you know how important a pan sauce can be.  I didn’t have any spinach as in the original recipe so I used basil instead and was rewarded with another layer of flavor in the sauce (not to mention the gorgeous fragrance that perfumes your home while this is baking).

I still go out to eat and I don’t think I will ever give that up…I enjoy eating too much and I love to sample what these talented people have generously put out for us.  And I don’t know if I will ever be able to manage lechon, chicharon, or sushi in my home kitchen…and we all know I can’t live without that.  But there will always be a big chunk of my heart reserved for home-cooking (which is why I have a recipe blog and not a restaurant blog).  Because no matter how far I ramble, when it comes to food, there is truly no place like home. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa

Hi!  How have you all been doing?  Good I hope.  I’ve been under the weather this past week.  One of those nasty, unidentifiable bugs that make you feel generally lousy (runny nose, itchy throat, achy body) but not lousy enough to render you totally bedridden.  And if I’m not feeling lousy enough to be bedridden, then you know where I am…doing everything else but.  Slogging through work, going to meetings, cooking for my home (and for my blog…which incidentally is really the same sort of cooking), running errands, and then going to bed at night feeling spent and pitiful.  I wake up the next morning feeling just a measure better and think I can do it all over again.  Sigh.  Not the best of habits admittedly.  You feel lousy for a reason…your body is telling you that you need to slow down, catch a breath, and reboot for a bit. 

But do I every listen to my body?

Only when it tells me to go out and buy a pain au chocolat.

I know…I’m hopeless.

But I’ve come to accept my own special brand of hopeless hopefulness.  And it is liberating.  In my 40 years on Earth, that is the shining nugget of wisdom I can share…accept yourself, love yourself.  You are amazing.  And so is everyone else.  Let’s high five and hang out!

If only we all did that a little bit more maybe we would all be in better moods…and think more of the next pain au chocolate instead of the next political move or the next bomb to drop.

Or maybe I am just hopelessly naïve.  What can I say…hopeless hopefulness right?

In any case, if we need a something a little more virtuous to eat, because hopeful or no perhaps it isn’t such a good idea to subsist solely on French boulangerie, here is a little something that may fit the bill.

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • 300 grams mushrooms (I used Swiss brown mushrooms)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
- Heat a couple of swirls of olive oil in a pan or skillet.  When the oil is hot add the garlic and sauté just until the fragrance hits your nose.  Do not let the garlic brown.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing in the garlicky oil, until they start shrinking and releasing their juices.  Sauté further until they reabsorb all their juices and are soft and cooked through.
- Add the butter to the pan and toss just until the butter has melted and the mushrooms have become slick and shiny.
- Add the quinoa and mix gently, cooking for a couple of minutes until the quinoa has absorbed the flavors of the mushrooms.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add the parsley, toss, and remove from the heat.

As I have said many times before, I do not eat anything solely for its nutritional benefits.  If I eat something, it is because I actually like it.  And I like quinoa, truly.  It’s got a pleasant bite and a nutty flavor, is a great carrier of other ingredients, and, as a bonus, may put less on you waist that its equivalent in white rice.  Add some woodsy mushrooms and a touch of garlic and it is the perfect accompaniment for any kind of roast meat.  Although it is great on its well, or maybe with a fried egg on top. 

Let’s try to ignore that I just had to go an add two tablespoons of butter.  It’s worth it though.  Trust me on that.

I had dinner with an old family friend last week, a psychologist, and he looked at me and said, “Your father was an old soul, your mother and brother are old souls, but you are a young soul.  I didn't know whether I should have cheered or been ashamed.   Had I no wisdom?  God, I knew I should have been cultivating more sophistication in my free time instead of eating through my neighborhood bakery.  But he quickly reassured me, “You are wise, but have a certain naïveté.  So I guess it’s really true.  Hopeless hopefulness.  If it means always having something to laugh about, being able to find sliver linings, having the skill to brush myself off and start again, never experiencing the boredom of having “been there and done that”, always exploring, (and I suspect it keeps the wrinkles off as well)…then may I always stay the same.