Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Paella Shrimp

Shrimp Paella

It has been a long time since I last made paella! Honestly, living in Chicago, I never thought we'd make it again.  This isn't exactly the seafood capitol of the world, and I am lacking a paella pan (we used my friend's last time).  So when the roommate suggested it, I was... well, I was asleep. Solidly napping. I didn't even click the link in his text, I just send back the letter K and possibly a "stop texting me I'm napping."  Hey, we had a busy morning eating endlessly and playing Bocce to celebrate the Monkey Scientist's parents' anniversary!  The Monkey Scientist and I deserved a nap!

shrimp stock

Anyways when I finally re-entered the world and looked at my phone, I figured out we were having paella and I was actually really excited. Nervous about how to make it without a paella pan, but excited.  As it turns out, you can TOTALLY make paella in the cast iron skillet. So even though I'd totally gorged myself on the all you can eat buffet that morning, I was ready for a big paella dinner.

shrimp paella - adding the shrimp and artichokes

I should start by saying, this recipe is totally different than my other paella recipe.  If you live by the water and have access to great seafood, I'd probably tell you to stick with that one. It's just so loaded with goodies. But for paella in the Midwest, aside from just making a meat-based paella with chorizo, this one is pretty awesome.  The flavors are great. The rice cooks perfectly.  And the shrimp are briny and perfect. Plus artichokes? You can never go wrong with artichokes.  I just might fall asleep and let someone pick my dinner more often!

shrimp paella

Paella Shrimp
from What's Cooking America?

1 to 1 1/2 pounds raw extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined (save the shells!)
Ground sea salt
2 1/4 cups bottled clam juice or fish stock
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup uncooked Spanish or Arborio Rice
2 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)
Lemon wedges

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sprinkle the shrimp with ground sea salt.
3. In a large saucepan over medium-heat heat, heat the clam juice or fish broth, wine, and saffron; reduce heat to low and keep broth hot (not boiling. (I love making my own fish broth, but we didn't have the time so we used bottled clam juice. However, since we didn't have enough, we also boiled the shrimp shells in some water to make extra broth. Like I did here. Easy a pie.)
4. In a large Paella Pan or heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add onion and red bell pepper. Stir to mix and cook 3 minutes or until slightly softened.
5. Remove pan from heat. Stir in garlic and rice and continue stirring until garlic is fragrant and the rice is evenly coated with oil, about 1 minute.
6. Stir in tomatoes, paprika, and salt. Toss 30 seconds or so.
7. Stir in hot clam/saffron broth mixture. Return to heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer (stirring and rotating the pan occasionally) 10 to 15 minutes or until rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice in the oven.
8. Stir in shrimp and artichokes hearts.
9. Transfer paella pan/cast-iron skillet to the oven and cook, uncovered, about 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is almost al dente and until almost all liquid is absorbed. (NOTE: Never cook paella until the rice is completely done. If you do, it will be mushy by the time it reaches the table. Remove from the oven when the rice grains are no longer hard but still have more bite than you want and a crust forms around the edge of the pan.)
10. Remove from oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked to taste. Paella must rest after being removed from the oven, during which time the final cooking takes place.
11. To serve, sprinkle with chopped parsley and arrange lemon wedges around the top of the paella. Serve immediately. To eat, squeeze lemon juice over paella.

Makes 4 servings.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mango Guacamole (Taco night!)

Mango Guacamole

We hadn't had a taco night in a loooong time. When the roommate suggested taco night, even though it wasn't Tuesday, the Monkey Scientist and I were totally on board! Tacos might just be the easiest, tastiest dinner I can think of it.  We actually ate before 9 (which around our place lately has been a struggle)!

These were turkey tacos, of course seasoned with a full batch of my favorite taco seasoning.  I swear, this taco seasoning is so good, you won't even remember that you used turkey instead of beef.  On a side note, where on earth are those adorable measuring spoons my mom gave me, featured so prominently in that taco seasoning post? I swear, moving has caused me to misplace SO many things.  I'll have to investigate and figure out where they ended up. Hopefully they aren't still back in DC with my oven thermometer!

Taco night

Oh yeah, tacos. So the special element of these tacos was a mango guacamole we made up on the fly.  It added the perfect sweetness to counter the spicy meat. And by spicy, I mean the Monkey Scientist only had to add 2 kinds of hot sauce to his tacos to make them hit his flavor pallet. Plus salsa.  I swear, he's burned off all of his taste buds. I might just start snaking ghost chilis into his food - do you think he'd notice?

P.S. What do you think of our new dining room area?  I'm so excited to have a slightly bigger table. And it looks extra great with the flowers my bff sent us!

Taco night

Mango Guacamole

3 ripe avocados, pitted, removed from skins, and cubed
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
1 tomatillo, diced
1 tsp cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and cubed

1. Add avocado, shallots, garlic, lime juice, jalapeno, tomatillo and cayenne to a medium bowl. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Add mango cubes and stir to incorporate. Serve on tacos.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Italian Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Italian Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Well, hello again.  I am slowly getting back into the groove.  This week's post is inspired by the eggplant I bought at my local Jewel.  He came with a nose! (and then I gave him sticker eyes and peeled the skin to make a mouth)  How cute is he?  Have you ever grown an eggplant with a little offshoot like this? What causes that?

eggplant man

This recipe is a little bit different than what I usually make, and I liked that. It's rare I make an Italian dish without pasta (seems necessary) but there is no reason not to use quinoa in Italian cooking. It even adds a bit of nuttiness and crunch that pasta lacks. I realize I've been pushing the qunioa lately, but how can you not love it? It's so healthy and tastes great.

Italian Chicken and Vegetables

Also, since the Monkey Scientist and I moved in with one of my best friends, I've started to make dinners for three.  It's caused me to reevaluate my portion sizes when I'm cooking quite a bit from cooking for just the two of us. Two boys eat a LOT! I doubled the original recipe and we had leftovers, but that's OK with me. At least then I don't have to think too much about lunch in the morning!

Italian Vegetable and Chicken Quinoa

The other part of cooking for two boys is that I'm totally outnumbered when I try to make vegetarian meals. "Vegetarian meal" means side dish to these Midwestern boys.  I don't even have my vegepescatarian camp friend to come over and use as an excuse to leave the meat out, since I sadly left her behind in DC (someone make her move to Chicago, please!).  So while I added chicken to this dish, you could definitely substitute it with another can of beans for a Meatless Monday or otherwise vegetarian meal.

Italian Vegetable and Chicken Quinoa

This meal was a big hit with everyone. It wasn't the simplest or easiest meal to make (it helped to have 2-3 people in the kitchen) but the dish layered really well. It reminded the Monkey Scientist of Ratatouille - one of our favorites.  The flavors were bold and recognizably Italian, but I didn't miss the pasta at all.  We kicked the spice up a lot, since the 3 of us are not sensitive to spice at all these days, but if you can't handle much spice you can use just a dash of cayenne.  I think this is a great way to use up your gardens at the end of the summer!

Italian Vegetables and Chicken Quinoa

Italian Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa
adapted from the Shiksa

1 lb. eggplant, cubed, skin on
1/2-1 lb chicken breast tenders (raw, not the fried kind), cubed
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onion, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2-2 cups quinoa (I used a mix of red and white)
1 lb. zucchini, sliced into rounds
1 can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper (more if, like us, you can handle it)
1/3 cup fresh chopped basil, divided
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan

1. Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle all of the pieces with salt. Let the eggplant sit for about 20 minutes (I totally didn't wait this long and it was fine) till beads of water form on the surface of the eggplant. When beads of water have risen on the eggplant, rinse the eggplant thoroughly and drain to get rid of the excess salt.
2. Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add diced onion to the skillet and saute for a few minutes until softened. Add the minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes longer until aromatic.
3. Add the cubed eggplant, crushed tomatoes, and 1/2 cup of water to the skillet. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover the skillet with a lid and reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the eggplant cook for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a mesh strainer or sieve, drain.
5. Bring 3-4 cups water (2:1 ratio with the amount of quinoa) to a boil in a saucepan. Pour the quinoa into the boiling water, bring back to a boil. (I used my rice cooker but my quinoa came out mushy, so I recommend doing it on the stove.) Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the quinoa simmer for about 20 minutes until it becomes tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep a close eye to make sure the quinoa doesn't dry out or burn.
6. In a small skillet, heat a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook until just cooked through and you can't see any pink. It's ok if it's a little under-cooked, since it will cook more later.
7. After the eggplant has cooked for 15 minutes, uncover the skillet and add the sliced zucchini, beans, chicken, oregano, cayenne pepper, and 3 tbsp of fresh chopped basil. Stir, bring back to a low simmer, then recover the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 15 minutes longer till the zucchini is tender.
8. When the quinoa is done cooking, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Stir in remaining 2 tbsp of fresh chopped basil and the fresh lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
9. When the vegetable and chicken mixture is done cooking, remove from heat. There may be a lot of liquid in the pan. The vegetable mixture should be saucy but not overly liquid. If it seems watery, simmer it for a few minutes on medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce reduces a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
10. Serve the vegetable and chicken mixture in bowls over the quinoa. Top with Parmesan cheese to serve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pecan Crusted Tilapia and Spicy Tomato Basil Quinoa (I'm back!)

Spicy Tomato Basil Quinoa with Pecan-Crusted Tilapia

Omigoodness. I am so sorry. I have neglected you for an ENTIRE MONTH. I'm a horrible blogger, but I had some good excuses! I moved! (Did you noticed the header?) The Monkey Scientist persuaded me to move to his hometown of Chicago and so far I am loving every minute of it. However, the move also consisted of 3 weeks without internet, which seriously hindered my ability to blog.  Not to mention the 2 weeks living with the Monkey Scientist's parents, during which I was completely spoiled and only had to cook once or twice. But I'm back now. I'm really going to work on getting back to thrice-a-week blogging, but please bear with me while I get back into the swing of things.

Pecan-crusted tilapia

One of my favorite things about moving to Chicago is that I'm close to my baby brother, who is in school at Northwestern.  We haven't lived in the same city for more than a couple of weeks since the summer after my Freshman year of college, and despite our sibling bickering, I love having him around.  And I'm pretty sure he loves having me here - if only because I am willing cook for him.  I gave him a few options to pick from for dinner this week and he chose this pecan-crusted tilapia (the original recipe was catfish but we New Englanders do not eat catfish) and tomato basil quinoa.  A mighty fine choice if I say so myself.

I wanted to spice up the quinoa but accidentally removed the cap from my spice jar instead of opening the shaker and didn't notice before I literally dumped a handful of red pepper flakes into the rice cooker. Oops. I was able to remove a few of them, but we definitely ate spicy quinoa.  The Monkey Scientist would have loved it, but he was out with his own brother at the Bears game.

Pecan-crusted tilapia with spicy tomato basil quinoa

This dinner was so good, it gave me the kick I needed to get back into blogging. It was super healthy (barely any oil or butter in the whole dish and just a little fat from the nuts) and loaded with flavor.  The quinoa is spicy, nutty, and filled with summery tomato-basil flavor.  I'd love to chop some little balls of mozzarella and spread them throughout next time. The fish was perfectly flaky, nutty, and a little lemon juice complemented it well. I think this meal was a major step up from the frozen pizza baby bro was going to make otherwise.  Plus, it was pretty easy to make. I think baby bro will be coming by more often after this meal!

Spicy Tomato Basil Quinoa

Pecan-Crusted Tilapia
adapted from Eat, Live, Run

6 fillets tilapia (or any flaky, white fish)
1 cup finely ground pecans (I bought them pre-crushed but you could crush them yourself or put them in the food processor)
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2-1 cup buttermilk
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a shallow dish or pie plate, mix together the finely ground pecans, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dry mustard, pepper, cayenne and salt.
3. Place the tilapia fillets in another shallow dish. Pour buttermilk over the fish fillets. Dip each buttermilk-soaked piece of fish into the nut mixture, dredging completely. Place crusted fish on a parchment paper or silpat-lined sheet tray.
4. Bake fish for 20 minutes. When done, fish should be white and flake easily. Crust should be golden. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Spicy Tomato Basil Quinoa
adapted from Pink Parsley

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained (I used white)
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1-2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the onion/garlic mixture, tomato sauce, water, quinoa, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and cayenne to a rice cooker and cook completely. The quinoa will be tender, chewy, and there will be white, spiral-like threads around each grain. (If you don't have a rice cooker, head back to Pink Parsley for instructions on how to do this on the stove or follow your package instructions.)
3. Move from the rice cooker to a serving bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and basil, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.