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Archive for October, 2007

Training Wheels

About three or four years ago, “y’all” some how made its way into my vocabulary. I have no idea where or whom I picked it up from or how I subconsciously decided to add this to regular conversation, but it seems like it is here for the long haul. I have even uttered “all of y’all” a few times. This affliction seems to especially irk Bawstin, who points it out every time I use it.

While I cannot ever see myself becoming a good Southern girl, they do have it right on a few things, especially food.  Fried chicken, pecan pie and sweet tea are things I can certainly get behind.  I especially enjoy biscuits and gravy and the Southern affinity to slather things in butter.  While all these are great, my all time favorite Southern delicacy has to be shrimp and grits.

My lust for shrimp and grits was awakened about three years ago at Vidalia.  That meal was pure perfection; the shrimp was wonderfully seasoned and cooked for just the right amount of time. While I love shrimp, it can be fickle and become rubbery if it spends an extra 30 seconds in the pan. No such sin occurred to these shrimp.  The grits were velvety and smooth, with just the perfect amount of cheese. Since my introduction to this classic, I order it every time I see it on a menu.

I have been dying to make shrimp and grits at home, but have been hesitant. I am not a Southerner, have never made grits and I fear disappointing myself greatly. It is on my list of things to make (oh yes, there is a written list) but I haven’t quite summoned the nerve. So, instead, I made another shrimp and carb wonder, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I prepared this last Sunday evening when my friend Sunshine came over. He is a pescatarian, so it proves a tad more challenging when he comes over.  This dish, Shrimp with Feta and Orzo, isn’t anything too fancy, but it was perfect for a casual dinner with a friend.  The leftovers were fantastic, too.  The original recipe calls for garlic herb feta; I decided to mince some garlic and use fresh herbs instead.  The feta melts a bit as it cooks, and along with the juices from the tomatoes, creates a light, pinky sauce.  In one pan, you get your vegetables, a protein and a starch. The only thing I love more than a delicious dinner is one that doesn’t dirty five pans. 

Hopefully, the shrimp and grits I vow to make turn out half as good.

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Shrimp with Feta and Orzo

Adapted from Good Housekeeping

1 1/2 cups orzo (rice-shaped pasta)

1/2 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/4 lbs peeled and deveined shrimp

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

½ tablespoon fresh thyme

½ tablespoon marjoram, chopped

4 oz feta cheese

Prepare orzo in boiling salted water as label directs. Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet, melt margarine or butter over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add shrimp, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until shrimp turn opaque throughout, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Remove skillet from heat. Drain orzo; toss with shrimp mixture and feta.

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With a Cherry on Top

Sometimes, the stars just don’t line up for you. The job you really wanted doesn’t come through, or he doesn’t call like he said he would, or maybe you are having a hideous hair day, or you have your heartbroken. Sure, they are on different levels, but they all suck.

This past year has been full of unpredictability. Try as I might, it seems I cannot make everything go my way. It’s been a year of ups and down, though admittedly more downs than ups. I was spanked–HARD– this past year and the aftershocks have been enormous. I grew a lot as a person, blah blah blah, but there were some bleak and dark moments, moments I hope to never revisit.

The past couple of weeks things have started to turn around. Day to day stuff has gotten much better. I have made a few career decisions that has made the daily grind much more tolerable. My vow to eat healthier lunches and workout more has paid off; my pants officially fit comfortably once again. After the great shake-up of 2006, I am once again starting to live my life in the way I want. I still have my moments, but don’t we all?

But, some bigger changes have occurred. I have finally accepted the role I played in some of these bad things. I really do want to see the best in people. I am hard to get through to, but once a person is in, they are in. This blew up in my face when I ignored my instincts, but if this what I get for being exceedingly loyal to my inner circle, this is a price I am willing to pay. More importantly, I have forgiven others who behaved despicably and disappointed me at a time in my life when I didn’t think things could get any worse.

This past year has shown me some incredible things. I have learned who my true friends are, I met some people I would have never known in my old life, and I learned I have a strength I feared I didn’t posses. I am ready to live in the present instead of dwelling on the past. These past few weeks I have realized I haven’t felt this good in over a year. My happiness snuck up on me. I feel such relief that the stars are finally aligning for me

And for this I deserve a giant, delicious cookie, with many, many cherries on top.

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Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

Adapted from Cooks.com

1 c unsalted butter, softened

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2- 4 oz. bars high end semi-sweet chocolate, smashed

1- 4 oz. bar high end milk chocolate, smashed

1 cup dried cheeries, roughly chopped

Cream butter and gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed with electric mixer. Add eggs and vanilla beating well.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chunks and cherries. Refrigerate dough at least 1 hour.

Drop dough by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly brown. (Note: I suggest cooking for 15 minutes if you are transporting the cookies. While they were done at 12 minutes, the short baking time made them delicate and they broke into pieces when I transported them. A few more minutes would have rendered a firmer cookie, but everyone still devoured my cookie shards.) Cool slightly on cookie sheets. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 4 dozen.

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Every single time I head to my local Whole Foods, the man behind the meat counter asks me the same question as he gestures to the pair of sunglasses perched on top of my head: “So, tell me something, Young Lady, when you put those glasses, do you have a whole new identity?”

And my response is always the same: “Yep, I’m a double agent. Don’t trust me.”

This guy is a weird dude, always kinda lingering around behind the counter and looking at me the whole time he pulls together my order. I find myself silently begging that he pay attention to what he is doing, lest he cut off his thumb preparing my sirloin tips. He always seems deep in thought, and every single time I am sure this will be the visit he says something original, something besides the old sunglasses line. This never happens, but I have hope.

Shady Whole Food Guy and me, though, we have a bond. He has a line, I play along, we are both happy. I am a shameless flirt, so it works for me, even if it is a bit off-putting. He cannot hurt me from behind his big glass case. I am sure the hippies in corporate would frown on his vague sexual harassment, but honestly, when I am in the trenches of Whole Foods Hell on a busy Sunday afternoon, I find this charade oddly comforting.

The same exact thing happened when I purchased the chicken chorizo for this soup over the weekend. I was feeling indecisive as to how much sausage I wanted to throw in to the soup, but he showed me the patience only he can show me. I do think I settled on the perfect amount of chorizo for the soup, so I appreciate his tolerance.

The original recipe for this soup was already quite healthful, full of nutrients from the sweet potatoes and spinach. I was able to make it even healthier by cutting the amount of oil (it seemed excessive), using chicken chorizo instead of pork and using more sweet potatoes and less white potato. I am also glad I resisted the urge to add more spices to the pot; the beauty of this soup is the chorizo spices up the broth by letting off its smoky flavor. Mashing the potatoes roughly breaks them down, lacing the liquid with sweetness and some starch. The soup is a beautiful, flavorful light orange that only gets better the next day. It is so great that Epicurious featured it as its “Recipe of the Day” today-I feel like a visionary. This is a proven winner.

Thank you, Shady Whole Foods Guy, for making this possible.

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Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup

Adapted from Epicurious

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 chorizo sausages (I used chicken chorizo)
2 medium onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams; about 2 large), peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 yukon gold potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 9-ounce bag fresh spinach

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to paper towels to drain. Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add all potatoes and cook until beginning to soften, stirring often, about 12 minutes. Add broth; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Using potato masher, mash some of potatoes in pot. Slice sausage in to thin, round coins. Add sausage to soup. Stir in spinach and simmer just until wilted, about 5 minutes.. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

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