California Tapas

I’ve been on a blog vacation since I arrived home two weeks ago. This, of course, does not mean that I have not consumed blogworthy foods or that I have not been cooking. On the contrary, my friend! I’ve been enamored yet again by all of the fresh delicious foods available in California. Whole Foods’ produce and cheese sections alone…it’s like heaven. Heirloom tomatoes! They represent summer for me and I think that in two weeks I’ve already consumed 10 pounds of them. I’m told to choose two cheeses because we are having guests over and need an appetizer and I struggle with commitment issues in the cheese section. So, when my parents suggested I make dinner for some friends I got a little ahead of myself and decided that a variety of tapas was the way to go. And this is the story of how I ended up the most full I have been since my uncle in Spain challenged me to eat a one pound steak…

First course: Grilled Pizzas

Three varieties to be exact.

Number 1: Olive tapenade with red onions, finely shaved zucchini, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.

Number 2: Mushrooms and leeks with brie.

Number 3: Fig jam with figs, mozzarella, and prosciutto.

Trader Joe’s dough – why make your own when you have this (and you know I like to make my own stuff!) – on the grill is just phenomenal. The heat you can’t quite get in the oven, you’ve got on the grill. Plus, fire! It’s pretty simple to do – just stretch the dough on a lightly floured surface, lightly oil the grill, and toss it on there. After about 5 minutes, take it off, flip it and put your toppings on the grilled side. Then put it back on the grill, off of the direct heat, for about 10 minutes. When making three it’s super helpful to have plates with the ingredients all cut and ready to go for each pizza.

Can’t forget the wine! Alban Vineyards: a California Syrah with rich dried fruit flavors.

Alban

Second course: Caprese salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata cheese, and Basil

I’m having a love affair with Burrata. I used to think that fresh mozzarella was the best thing ever…and then I met Burrata. There isn’t much more to say about that. So, heirloom tomatoes, basil, olives, and a balsamic reduction. THE summer salad.

Third course: Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with garlic)

This is a typical Spanish tapa. Olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes are heated to cook peeled fresh shrimp. The sauce is as good as the shrimp and this dish must be served family style with some bread to soak up the sauce. An all time favorite in my home and my Dad made this one.

And another bottle of wine, of course! This time from the land I currently call home, Castilla y Leon.

Fourth course: Chicken Satay and Seared Scallops wrapped in Prosciutto

The pictures are getting a little dark as the night progressed. This chicken satay recipe is from foodandwine.com and it’s a winner. It’s super easy and, most importantly, delicious. Shallots, garlic, lemongrass, jalapeño pepper and fresh ginger get ground into a paste in a food processor and then soy sauce, fish sauce, ground coriander, brown sugar, and ground pepper are mixed in until you’re left with a thick paste. Half of it goes to marinading the chicken strips and the other half you cook in a little bit of oil and then add coconut milk and peanut butter to create a thick sauce. Here’s the link to the original recipe: Gingery Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

I’m getting hungry… These scallops are wrapped in a thin slice of prosciutto and seared in a bit of butter with sage leaves. After taking them out of the pan, we deglazed the pan with a couple tablespoons of white wine (the one we were drinking) and poured the sauce over top. Scallops are one of my very favorite creatures from the sea and their natural sweetness goes perfectly with salty prosciutto. The key here is not to overcook them, just a couple minutes on each side on a high flame so you get that beautiful brown sear.

Last, but certainly not least, dessert: Individual Peach Crumble

I had to do something with all the incredible peaches that are around right now. These little dishes got filled with sliced peaches that had been tossed with sugar and  cornstarch. I borrowed these measurements from a recipe for Peach Cobbler.

I baked them just like this for 10 minutes at 425º F (218ºC) and then topped them with a crumble topping. Then they went back into the oven for 15 more minutes until the tops were golden brown.

So delicious. The crumble topping is one I borrowed from my aunt’s apple pie – 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup cold butter cut into cubes, and 1 cup of sliced almonds. You have to mash the butter into it until the chunks are small and all the ingredients are mixed well and then you sprinkle this topping over the peaches. It all spreads out as it cooks to make a uniform topping.

As the month goes on, I’ll bring you more from the land of sunshine. It feels good to be home! And on vacation!

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Creamy Spaghetti with Shrimp and Veggies

After an incredible 5 course meal on Valentine’s Day we needed something a little lighter later on in the week. More than a recipe, this is more a concept you can use to make super healthy, yet satisfying pastas. Instead of using cream to make an alfredo-style sauce, use low-fat cream cheese and pasta cooking water to make a light sauce that tastes rich and creamy, but without the fat. It tricks your taste buds, for real.

For two servings, start out with about 3 cups of fresh veggies of your choice, all thinly sliced.

I chose onion, red pepper, carrots and mushrooms. But you can make any combo you prefer. Another good combo I made some time ago was fresh spinach, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon (cook the bacon, set aside on paper towels and drain the fat from the pan before cooking the veggies, chop it up and add it at the end – 1 slice per serving adds a lot of salty delicious flavor but if you get rid of the fat, it doesn’t ruin a “light” recipe).

Anyway, this is super simple: while you bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook your choice of pasta (spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine…) according to the package directions, start by sauteing shrimp on high in about a tablespoon of olive oil. I use a lot of frozen shrimp which I don’t even bother to defrost for these types of things, but it’s important that the heat is on high so that you don’t end up with a ton of liquid from the shrimp. Once the shrimp are almost cooked, about 3 minutes, add all of the veggies. Sauté 3-5 more minutes on high, add a pinch or two of salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is cooked al dente (slightly firm), scoop a cup of the pasta water and reserve, then drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the veggies and shrimp. Add 3 tablespoons of low-fat cream cheese and a little bit of the reserved pasta water. Toss until the cream cheese is evenly incorporated and add more pasta water, if needed. As soon as it’s mixed, serve and sprinkle with Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese.

So, super simple and fast, but healthy and very satisfying. The majority of the bulk is vegetables so it’s a great way to cut down on the simple carbs in pasta (you could even add whole-wheat pasta for a more fiber-full version) and get in a days worth of veggies (very important!).

Enjoy! And let me know if you come up with any delish combinations I need to try!

Here’s the ingredients as adapted by me:

  • 4 oz uncooked spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup small frozen shrimp
  • 3 cups assorted sliced veggies (1 small onion, 1/2 a red pepper, 5 white mushrooms, one carrot and a clove of garlic)
  • 3 tbsp low-fat cream cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • Grana Padano cheese, freshly grated

*Recipe adapted from CookingLight.com (link)

Shrimp Pad Thai

I’m a little late this week posting my latest culinary creations because I spent the weekend skiing in the Pyrenees. Before you say, “oh, fabulous!”, let me tell you that the average temperature this past weekend was between 5 and -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, the hotel had a spa for some relaxation after a long day of freezing my butt off…and skiing.

Also, hot chocolate…

Not a lot of snow, a lot of cold! But still a great time!

Anyway… Shrimp Pad Thai. One of my favorites and I’ve never made it…with the exception of the boxed Trader Joe’s version. But, oh do I miss the availability of endless options of foods from around the world. Asian food is sometimes a bit intimidating because usually recipes call for a million sauces and ingredients, but this is a super easy recipe with ingredients that even I could find (at the corner store that’s owned and run by a Chinese family and has a little corner reserved for Asian ingredients – it was there that I found rice noodles, teriyaki sauce, and sesame oil).

I made this recipe twice because I added a bunch of veggies and ended up over-cooking them the first time while allowing the sauce to reduce, so the second time I sauteed the veggies and then set them aside while the sauce reduced and then added everything back in. This way they come out crunchy and add texture to the soft chewy noodles. The great thing about a recipe like this is that you can add any kind of vegetables and/or protein you like (I used soy bean sprouts, carrots, onions and shrimp). Also, it’s so quick and easy – perfect for a fast lunch or dinner!

Here’s the recipe (bonus: it’s from Cooking Light!):

  • 8 oz uncooked spaghetti (or rice noodles, if possible)
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/4 tsp Sriracha (or hot chili powder – if you have neither, a pinch of cayenne pepper or pepper flakes)
  • 2 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 pound peeled shrimp (or your preferred protein e.g. chicken, tofu…)
  • 4 cups snow peas (or any combo of veggies that you prefer)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/3 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Combine teriyaki sauce, water, peanut butter, and sriracha in a small bowl, mixing with a whisk or fork.

Boil a large pot of water (no salt or oil) and add rice noodles or pasta. Cook according to package directions.

Heat sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic, sauté one minute. Add any veggies that need to cook longer (e.g. carrots, onion, red pepper…) and sauté 3 minutes. Add shrimp, sauté 2 minutes or until almost cooked through. Transfer vegetable and shrimp mixture to a plate.

Add teriyaki sauce, water, peanut butter, and sriracha mix to pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, until sauce thickens.

Once the sauce has thickened a bit, turn off the flame, add noodles and vegetable mixture back into pan and toss until evenly coated. Sprinkle chopped peanuts and cilantro on top. Serve with a lime wedge.

*Recipe adapted from CookingLight.com (link)