Improving on Perfection

So yes I am totally one of those people who when someone says “don’t touch that,” all I want to do is touch it! I probably had no interest in touching whatever it was before, but once you tell me I can’t do something I all of sudden get this sudden urge to want to do it.

Now that I am pseudo grown-up I am pretty good at controlling that urge but when I was a kid it got me into loads of trouble. Like when one of my sleep away camp bunk mates told me not to make another “peep” or she would get out of bed and slap me. What did I do . . . I said “peep” and what happened? I got slapped. Then we both spent the following evening in our bunk while our bunk mates attended whatever evening activity was going on that night. Lesson learned? Sort of.

I absolutely love Alice Water’s simplistic approach to cooking, in fact, I admire it. So when I made her spaghetti with summer squash and walnuts I was so good about not mucking around with it, but it was honestly killing me. Since then that dish has become a household staple but tweaked in many, many different ways. So as the end of summer draws near and my endless supply of summer squash and heirloom cherry tomatoes disappears I thought I would share with you all, my summer staple pasta recipe.

Not only is it absolutely delish it is probably one of the easiest dishes I cook in my kitchen and is also totally simple to switch up.

Summer Pasta (a what i made for dinner original)

serves 2

1/3 to 1/2 lb of pasta of  your choice – I generally use penne or linguini

3 smallish summer squash (you can pick any combo you like paddy pan, crook neck, zucchini, etc)

2/3 lb of deveined, peeled shrimp (I used the easy to peel in the picture because they were on sale)

Salt

Pepper

2/3 to 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (I am obsessed with the heirlooms this year) – optional

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Basil (optional)

Goat cheese (optional)

1/4 cup Toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Now depending on cooking times you will have to time this as best you can so everything is done at the same time. I am trying to use whole wheat pasta which usually takes close to 20 minutes but check the cooking times on your pasta.

Slice the summer squash into quarter-inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. If you want them a little spicier I sometimes add some red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions, drain and reserve some pasta water.

Alright so here is how you can switch it up:

  • If you want to add some shrimp place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can always use red pepper flakes here too if you want to spice it up. Place in the oven and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. You know the shrimp is done when it curls up and turns pink. Be careful not to over cook or you will end up with rubbery shrimp.
  • If you want to add some tomatoes wash and dry cherry tomatoes. Leave them whole and place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and cook from about 10 minutes.
  • If you want a crunch add some toasted walnuts. Simply put the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Plate pasta in bowls. If you would like a creamier-style pasta add several decent size crumbles of goat cheese. I like to put them in the bowl before the pasta so the heat of the pasta melts the cheese. Then add any combo of squash, shrimp, tomatoes and / or walnuts. Pour a little reserved pasta water just to add a touch of moisture to the dish, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and add the basil if you have it on hand. Toss and enjoy!

Some of my favorite combinations:

  • Summer squash, shrimp, red pepper flakes and basil
  • Tomatoes, shrimp, red pepper flakes
  • Both of the above are great with our without goat cheese
  • Summer squash, tomatoes and toasted almonds

Enjoy with a great glass of Chardonnay or Soave

Baked Shrimp Scampi

When the first words out of your hubby’s mouth are “This is beyond restaurant quality,” you know you found yourself a winning dish!

In case you haven’t noticed we have been in a bit of a chicken rut.  I guess I wouldn’t necessarily call it rut, that somehow implies the chicken has been boring, or uninspired, or just plain awful. Which it has not been. It’s just that we seem on gravitating toward cooking lots of chicken (and even ordering it in!). So I was determined to get out of our “rut.” I trolled the cookbooks for dishes that did not include chicken and stumbled on this baked shrimp scampi recipe in Ina’s Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook. One quick glance and it looked easy enough, plus it did not need too many ingredient purchases, so onto the week menu it went.

Luckily for me (and the hubby) I didn’t look too carefully at how much effort actually went into the dish or else it would have been cut immediately. Between butterflying shrimp to dicing/ chopping at least 5 different ingredients to make the butter, I felt like I was on some type of Top Chef challenge (and not in a good way). In fact, halfway through making the butter, I turned to the hubby and said I am NEVER making this recipe again!

But one bite of the finished product erased all of that. It was buttery, herby, lemony delciousness!  Paired perfectly with some sauteed spinach and crusty bread it transported just another weeknight dinner into a date night instantaneously.  The recipe says it serves 6, I halved it and the baking dish was completely cleaned. Anything this good deserves to become a household go-to and I think using my food processor will help cut back on the prep time for the butter.

After raving about the recipe to a few family members I figured it best to post it. Sorry Ina!

Baked Shrimp Scampi (adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook)

Serves 2 (this is how I made it)

3/4 of 1lb of shrimp (25 to 30 per pound) peeled and deveined with tails on

1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil

1 tbsp of white wine (Ina’s says dry but we only had a Viognier in the house it worked just fine)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

6 tbsp of unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cloves of minced garlic

1/8 cup of minced shallots

1 1/2 tbsp of minced fresh parsley

1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 large egg yolk

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Butterfly the shrimp by cutting around the outer curve of the shrimp so they open like a book. Cut the shrimp deep enough so they open but do not cut in half. Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, salt and pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter.

In a small bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, salt and pepper until combined. (I have a feeling you do all of this in the food processor to save yourself tons of time)

Starting from the outer edge of a 10-inch oval gratin dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down, the tails curling up and towards the center of the dish (see the shrimp pictures above if you are confused). Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp. Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp (we found we had a lot of butter for the dish so we used the extra to flavor the sauteed spinach – hubby gets credit for that idea). Bake for 10 minutes and place under the broiler for 1 minute.

Enjoy! Ina recommends serving with a lemon wedge but I don’t think you need it. What I do think you need is some bread to soak up the amazing sauce.

Roasted Shrimp and Summer Squash with Pesto

I used to love cooking for one. Probably because (1) I did not know any better and (2) the thought of cooking for someone else terrified me. What if the amazing dish I made for myself (night after night) somehow tasted awful to my dinner guest? How do I even figure out how to increase the amount to make?

But once I got over the fear of cooking for someone other than myself I realized how much fun cooking for two could be. There are so many more recipes and options. Plus there is always someone to do the dishes.

So now when the hubby does not come home for dinner I am usually at a loss for what to do. How did I just cook for one all of those years? Generally I resort to frozen dinners, veggie burgers, chicken sausage, or some type of super easy pasta.

Given the ridiculous food consumption over the weekend and anticipating a week with my family in town I could not stomach another not so healthy meal. What to do?

I knew the recipe books were not going to help me on this one. I looked in the fridge and it was slim pickings. There really wasn’t much for a clean-out-the-fridge meal, or was there? I still had a bunch of pine nuts left over from the pasta escapade a few weeks ago and some starting-to-wilt basil.  Pesto!

But what to eat the pesto with? Keeping with the healthy-dinner-for-one theme, pasta was immediately off the list. Then I remembered this amazing pesto dish we had in Italy a few years ago – grilled calamari with pesto. My knowledge of cooking calamari is pretty limited, well I’ll be honest, its non-existent. So I went with the next best thing shrimp.

I cleaned the basil leaves and packed them into a Pyrex to get two cups worth of leaves.

Then I toasted a quarter cup of pine nuts.

I pulled the blender out from the back of the cabinet and added the pine nuts, basil, and a clove of garlic and started pulsing.  Nothing seemed to be happening so I pulsed some more.  Still it looked like I had a full glove of garlic moving around and whole pine nuts. I put a spatula in and moved things around and put the blender on chop this time. Still nothing.

I started to realize this blender thing might not work out. I figured out how to fix the garlic situation; my garlic press. But the basil leaves pretty much stumped me. Fingers crossed, I reached for the food processor and dumped the unblended pesto mixture from the blender into the food processor and hit chop.  Voila I had the base for my pesto. I added the oil slowly, allowing it to blend in with the base, and then I folded in a half cup of grated parmesan cheese.

The shrimp could not have been easier to make. A little olive oil, salt and pepper, then into the oven they went at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. The pesto was a little too thick to pour over them so I added a little more olive oil and some boiling water to loosen up the sauce.

I served it up with some roasted summer squash (olive oil, salt and pepper roasted in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees) topped with basil.

It was the perfect, healthy, one person meal.  It was so good that I will definitely have to make it for the hubby sometime too.

 

 

Weekend Wrap Up

So I am sure you guessed from my radio silence that something was going on this weekend.

It was a big something – two of our very good friends got hitched and they did it in style!

It was the perfect weekend full of sunshine (it has been really foggy here), great food, good friends, and lots of laughs.  While we were staying in a beautiful house up in wine country with an unbelievable kitchen, I chose to spend the weekend eating food not making it.

Here are some of the highlights:

Lobster and butter lettuce salad with corn, watermelon radishes, white nectarines, and lemon tarragon salad dressing.  YUM!  I spent four years of my life living in Maine and eating lobster so I am a total sucker for a Maine lobster salad and this one did not disappoint.  What could be better than a late afternoon lunch with my hubby, on a boat dock in Sausalito, sitting in the sun and sipping a glass of wine? Where is this fabulous oasis?  Our favorite little, pseudo hidden spot Le Garage, which is, in fact, a garage.

We then managed to find the wine country equivalent.  On an early morning bike ride through the vineyards we passed through Glen Ellen and spotted The Fig Cafe.  After working up quite an appetite we headed back for lunch, bracing ourselves for a long wait knowing it was the sister restaurant to The Girl and the Fig, a Sonoma favorite.  Lucky us, we walked right in, sat down and had the most delicious lunch – a fig and arugula salad followed by a heirloom tomato pizza.  It was the perfect start to a great afternoon of wine tasting.  We loved this place so much that we had to head back the next morning to taste the fig french toast – AMAZING.

But, of course, the highlight of the weekend was the wedding.  The rehearsal dinner, or welcome fiesta, did not disappoint.  Our friends actually hired a taco truck for dinner and it was soo good plus what better way to finish a summer dinner than with an IT’S-IT ice cream sandwich.  For those of you not from Northern California it is a classic – two oatmeal raisin cookies, filled with ice cream, and then dipped in chocolate.  What more could you ask for?  For us it was an amazing wedding for our two great friends and that they did have.  It was full of delicious food, lots of laughs, a few tears, and some great dancing.

Congrats DR & BG – we all had a blast and you could not have looked happier.

Fusilli with Shrimp and Arugula

Ok so this was the week I was going to branch out and try new recipes.  I had all the time in the world on Sunday morning when I returned from the airport at 6:20am and could not fall back to sleep. I read through some cookbooks, made some breakfast, and then I realized that I was almost going to miss the 8am gym class I was so excited to finally be up for. So I rushed to the gym, made the gym class, and totally left my shopping list at home.

The debate – go home and get the list and finish menu planning or call my mom, ask her for her favorite recipes and create a shopping list on the fly. In the spirit of being efficient and of sticking with “branch out week,” I went for the later and my mom shared her chicken lettuce cup recipe (reviewed yesterday), and two pasta dishes. This is the first of the two.  The shocker – they are both by Giada!  I know that this is totally not branching out but they are from a cookbook I do not own and are not too similar to recipes I make so I figured they count.

First chop shallots and mince garlic.

Then saute in olive oil while the pasta cooks.

Add white wine, red pepper flakes, reduce and then add the shrimp.  Whole Foods is on a peeled, deveined, uncooked shrimp shortage (something to do with a shrimp farm) so I opted for easy peel shrimp that are deveined but with the shell still on.  I have to say I might be a convert to peel on shrimp, so favorful!

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with the shrimp.  Add the arugula.

Then plate and serve.

It was delicious!  I am really liking the arugula and pasta concept, will definitely have to try experimenting with this on my own.  I am also totally impressed how the white wine sauce tasted almost buttery.  This will be making a repeat appearance in this kitchen.

Spaghetti with Clams

I have been craving this dish for weeks now.

Over July 4th weekend we took a little road trip up to wine country and met friends for dinner at Cafe Citti, which also happened to be featured on Diners, Drive-in, and Dives.  Don’t ask me what category it falls into because we had a big debate over dinner about this and we agreed to agree that it falls into none of them.

When it came time to order our friend who recommended the restaurant told us the clam sauce is to die for.  So, of course, we naturally ordered the clam sauce.  Seeing as it was 100+ degrees that day and still in the 90s at dinner, I couldn’t think of a lighter dinner than linguini with white clam sauce.

Well I was wrong.  I had no idea that Cafe Citti made their white clam sauce with cream!  To make matters even worse, our friend then informed us that they are known for their red clam sauce, not their white.  I definitely had order envy and picked my way through my dinner trying to avoid the cream sauce at all costs.

So when it came time to picking this Sunday night meal I went straight for Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook and her spaghetti with clam sauce recipe.  Fresh clams, garlic, shallot, white wine, and parsley – exactly what I was looking for.  Ok there might have been a little butter added but no cream!

First you saute chopped shallots and garlic in olive oil.

Then you add the wine, clams, salt, pepper, and parsley and let steam covered for 6 minutes.

When you take off the lid you have amazing deliciousness that looks like this:

Stir in a tablespoon of butter, toss with pasta, and garnish with some lemon zest.  How easy is that?

The dish was exactly what I was craving – light and refreshing.

I almost might dare to say it was a little too light.  When I make this dish again I might add in some red pepper flakes and perhaps some lemon juice.  But all in all a successful and yummy Sunday night dinner.

An Original – Roasted Shrimp and Tomato Pasta

You know those staple outfits that you have in your closet – the one’s that when you put them on it looks like you just threw something together but in the most amazing way possible.  It’s the definition of “effortless chic” and gets you a compliment every time.

Well this pasta dish is my kitchen equivalent!

I did just compare my closet to my kitchen – probably because I love them equally as much but for completely different reasons.  The trick how do you love your kitchen without loving your way out of your clothes?

My Roasted Shrimp and Tomato Pasta happens to be one of the easiest meals to make, comes out delicious every time, and you can dress it up or dress it down.

Last night’s version was probably as dressed down as I go these days.

So the must-haves to make this dish are – uncooked shrimp, cherry tomatoes, pasta, olive oil, salt & pepper.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and start boiling the water for the pasta.

Toss the peeled, deveined, uncooked shrimp and whole cherry tomatoes (do not cut them) with the olive oil, salt & pepper.  I use enough olive oil to just coat the shrimp and tomatoes.  Then place in a single layer on a baking sheet.  This is one step where you can dress up the dish.  Last night I also used minced garlic and red pepper flakes.  You can also use fresh herbs, other veggies, etc.   I recommend if using fresh basil to not add until later.

Tip on the minced garlic:  Trader Joes sells minced garlic frozen into little cubes.   They are amazing. I have the basil as well.

When the oven is preheated and the water is boiling,  figure out cooking times so that both pasta and shrimp are done at the same time.

I generally roast the shrimp for at most 10 minutes – they tend to over cook past this point.  The timing varies on the size and type of shrimp.  You know they are done when they turn pink in color and curl up – be careful not to over cook or else they get a little rubbery.  If you are going to use basil in your recipe I recommend adding it to the shrimp tomato mixture 2 minutes before removing from oven.

Cook the pasta of your choice according to timing on the package.  I usually flip between spaghetti and penne but always use whole wheat now.  Last night we went spaghetti.

Drain the pasta and plate in bowls.  Place the roasted shrimp and tomatoes on top of the pasta and drizzle with olive oil.  Here is another great place to dress up this dish you can used flavored olive oils, salt, grated cheese, lemon zest, fresh basil, or whatever else is in your kitchen

Last night I went with regular olive oil, gray salt (which I am obsessed with) and grated ricotta salata.

It was the perfect week night meal.  Added plus it was light enough to leave room for a little late night frozen yogurt run for dessert.  Yum!