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This Valentines day had no advance planning.   We don’t usually do anything special, but we’ll take any excuse to make an indulgent dinner.  Mister and I had thrown around some ideas by email while we were at work, but nothing was really sounding great.  We were both leaning seafood though, and when we got home and found the dregs of a bag of frozen shrimp that was nearing freezer burn we decided that a deeply unhealthy, creamy, dreamy shrimp alfredo pasta was in our future, but I still wasn’t excited.  And then Mister pulled the trump card out of the pantry – a can of smoked oysters.

Ah, oysters, the food of love.  Natures aphrodisiac.  Yeah….ugly little suckers though, aren’t they?  The shells are quite pretty, but take them out of there and you are left with what are essentially the ocean’s snot balls.  (wonderful delicious snot balls)  Smoke them, and they turn into the least appetizing looking things I have ever put in my mouth.  But give them a saute and put them in your mouth anyway, because they are delicious.*  Smokey, briny, firm but tender, they add a really special twist to an otherwise standard seafood dish.   Just eat them with your eyes closed.  Look it’s romantic already!

Smoked Oyster and Shrimp Alfredo

  • ~1/4-1/2  lb medium sized shell on shrimp.  (I’m guessing here on quantity, I was finishing off a bag of frozen shrimp and I think I had about a dozen of them.  Exactness does not matter for this one.)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • ½ large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can smoked oysters
  • black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • ¼ cup white wine (I actually used champagne.  It was open!)
  • ~3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan (freshly grated parm is very fluffy. I don’t pack it in at all when I measure it, so if you are smashing it down, or using non-freshly grated cheese, reduce it to more like 1 cup or even less.  Add, taste and add more if needed. I don’t recommend the green can here, but feel free to try it and tell me how it turns out)
  • ¾ lb long pasta of choice (we used thin spaghetti because that’s what we had. Any long noodle works)
  • salt if needed
  • Optional: fresh parsley.  I was sad we didn’t have any, it would have been the perfect finishing touch.

Shell the shrimp and put the shells in a small saucepan with about ½ cup of water.  Simmer the shells till they turn pink and then turn off the heat and let it sit while you prep everything else.   Set the naked shrimps aside.  Set a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a deep sided skillet, and add the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are starting to get nice and brown.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Add the oysters, including all the oil from the can.  Saute for a minute, mixing very gently to avoid breaking up the oysters.  Add a good coating of black pepper.

Push the onion-oyster mixture to the side of the pan and sprinkle the flour over the remaining butter.  Mix the flour and butter well and cook briefly to get rid of the raw flour taste, but don’t let it brown.  Pour in the wine, followed  by the strained shrimp-shell-stock (I just poured it through my wire mesh strainer straight into the skillet).  Whisk, whisk to incorporate the flour-butter paste into the liquid.  It might be lumpy at first.  Just keep the heat on medium and keep on whisking.  It will come together after a few minutes.

Now would probably be a good time to get your pasta into the hopefully boiling water.

Once you have the flour incorporated into the stock+wine, reduce the heat to medium low and mix the onions and oysters in from their lonely side of the pan.  Gently stir it all together, and start adding the cream.  Just add a generous splash at a time and mix it in.  Keep adding until it looks good to you.  We went pretty creamy, but if you were trying to be a little less indulgent you could use less cream, or use half-and-half .   Add the cheese and mix well.   Drop in the shrimp and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they are pink all over.  This will only take a few minutes.   Taste for seasoning and add salt and more pepper if needed.  Between the cheese and the oysters ours didn’t need any additional salt.

By this point the pasta should be done.  You want it just shy of al dente – transfer it into the pan with the sauce, reserving some of the pasta water if needed to thin the sauce out a bit.  Mix it all around to get all the pasta nicely coated, and let it cook for another minute and then remove it from the heat.   Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley if you’ve got it.  And serve.

And then if you’re like us, go sit on the couch and eat your creamy smokey briny pasta with glasses of champagne while watching How I Met Your Mother.  Mmm…now that’s romance.

*The saute part is mandatory.  I won’t eat them straight from the can…the texture is weird at room temp, but it fixes itself when they are heated.  I like them on toast, with some caramelized onions and maybe some ricotta cheese.

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Another quick weeknight dinner, inspired by Naturally Ella and the beef red-hots wasting away in our freezer.  We make our own sausage, and the beef red hots were a recent failure.  The flavor was good (definitely lived up to the name of red-hot) but the texture was all kinds of off, so they weren’t any good to just eat straight up.   We decided they needed a sauce to help the texture along, and I remembered seeing a roasted red pepper pasta sauce and tada!  A plan for dinner.   This was very tasty, though pretty damn spicy between the paprika and the HOT sausages.  Our sausages were also smoked, which I think was a great touch with the red pepper sauce.  Chorizo would make a good sub, but I think this would be tasty with just about any sausage that strikes your fancy.  I’d just adjust the seasoning to compliment your sausage.   Some of those fancy chicken sausages would be great, and much healthier.  🙂

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta w/ Beef Sausage adapted loosely from Naturally Ella

Serves 3-4

  • 1/2 box whole wheat penne pasta (or other chunky shape)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 sausages
  • 2 red peppers  (or pre-roasted jarred peppers)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 6 large button mushrooms  (anybody surprised?  They are optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika (smoked would be great)
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1 cup stock/broth (I used veal stock.   if you don’t have that, then match your broth to your sausage.  chicken with chicken.  beef with beef.  Ummm…veggie broth with pork probably.  Or just water)
  • 1 Tbsp-1/4 cup cream (I started off with just a splash, and thought that texture was nice, but ours was so spicy that it needed the extra cream for balance.  Your mileage may vary.  You could also omit the cream entirely.)

-Roast the red peppers:

Either hold them over the flame of a gas stove with your tongs till they are completely blackened, or if you are stuck with an electric stove, put them right up under your broiler and turn occasionally.  You want them to be truly black all over.

Once they are blackened, pop them into a plastic or paper bag for a couple of minutes with the top sealed.  You are letting the heat of the peppers steam the skin off.

Pull them out of the bag and scrape off the blackened skin.  It should come off with no problems at all.

Cut off the stems and take out the seeds and ribs and put the red pepper “meat” into the food processor.

Puree till smooth.  (I used the mini-chopper attachment for my stick blender.  I love that thing.  The whisk attachment is beyond useless though.)

-Mince the garlic and onion

-Slice the mushrooms and sausages into similarly sized chunks.  I 1/6th’d the mushrooms and cut the sausages into 1/2″ pieces, but I had big mushrooms and little sausages.

-Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan and saute the garlic and onions until softened and starting to color

-Push the onions and garlic aside and turn the heat up to medium-high cook the mushrooms.  Scatter them in the pan in a single layer and let them get some color before flipping.  You may have to do multiple batches.  As each batch gets properly seared push them aside to join the onions and mushrooms and sear the next batch.

-By this point the bottom of your pan should be covered in brown deliciousness.  Sprinkle in a healthy pinch of salt and a couple of turns of pepper and the paprika and mix well into the veggies.

-Add the sausage and let them get a little crispy around the edges before turning the heat down to medium.

-Start the pasta cooking at this point in a pot full of well-salted boiling water.

-*Back to the saute pan*  Pour in the white wine and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan (i.e. deglazing*) to get all those tasty bits in there.

-Add the stock, and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat if needed.

-Pour in the red pepper puree.

-Simmer till it thickens up a bit, and also till your sausage is cooked through if you are using a fresh sausage instead of a smoked (pre-cooked) sausage.   If you are using a fresh sausage wait a little longer to start your pasta, and simmer with a lid so as not to dry out the sauce.

-Add cream at your discretion and taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

-Drain the pasta while it is still a bit too al dente and mix it into the sauce to finish cooking.  If the sauce needs to be thinned out at all just add a splash of the pasta cooking water and mix well.

-Enjoy!

*Deglazing = scraping up the brown bits and letting them dissolve into some sort of liquid, typically wine or stock, in order to add extra deliciousness to a sauce or gravy.

I know I’ve got a wide range of cooking abilities in my 14 readers so I’m never sure whether to use specific terms or not.  Thoughts, oh faithful readers?

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Last night’s dinner was tasty, and I think it’s a good example of something that sounds ambitious but actually comes together pretty smoothly – so I’m sharing it.  Even though the pictures are miserably bad.  It was dark out and my camera was dying so I just snapped as quickly as I could.  Sorry about the greasy smears…

Mister and I suck at meal planning.  So as usual I came home having no idea what was for dinner and found a large piece of unidentified meat thawing on the counter.  It was a steak of some sort, no idea what cut, that we had bought on super-sale a couple of months ago and thrown in the freezer.    I went to find my Mister and asked what his plan was for the meat, and he requested that it be served some sort of gravy and mushrooms.    That sounded good to me, so main dish down.   We were stuck on sides for a bit, but then I remembered that we had a giant chunk of swiss cheese wasting away in our fridge, and so I suggested a mushroom-swiss rice dish with our steak.  Add in some quick roasted asparagus and we were in business.  (btw, if you stick with this blog long enough you’ll eventually notice that we put mushrooms in everything.   We love mushrooms.   You should too, they’re delicious.)

In order to pull this together with a minimum of fuss i highly recommend getting everything all ready to go before you start cooking.   So get the meat seasoned and then get the mushrooms sliced, onions diced, and garlic minced.   While you are finishing up the slicing and dicing, start your pan heating.   Then sear the steak and pop it into the oven and get going on the rice.  Once you have the rice simmering away, the steak will be ready to come out of the oven and rest, and then you can focus on the gravy.  At that point you can also crank up the oven and throw some green veggies (we went with asparagus) in to roast.  Green beans and broccoli are also really good roasted.  Just drizzle on some olive oil and give them a sprinkle of salt and pepper and into the oven they go.  Once the gravy is done the veggies should be finished too, then just  slice up the meat, and you are ready to plate.

So, now details:

Steak and Gravy

Servings depends on the size of your meat.  (heh  heh)

  • 1 large London broil style steak cut (I honestly have no idea what ours was.  We labeled it with the date, but no description.  You want a big slab of meat.  not a roast)
  • 6 baby bella’s (or white button mushrooms)
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into large wedges
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp  cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 cup veal or beef stock

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Blot the steak well with some paper towels to dry it off.  Give it a light sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper and let it rest at room temperature while you get a oven-safe skillet blazing hot on the stove.*

Lay the steak into the hot skillet and let it  get good and browned on the first side before flipping it and searing the other side.  It should be hot enough to be hissing furiously and smoking all over the place the whole time.  This is a good thing; open a window.   Once you’ve got both sides seared pull the steak out of the pan and lay it on a plate (and yes, this is a little weird, and possibly unnecessary) and stick it in the freezer.  Turn off the heat on the skillet and dump in the mushrooms and onions and pour in about 1/4 cup of water just to stop the smoking and draw off some of the heat.

Give the steak 2-3 minutes in the freezer and then lay it back in the skillet, pushing the mushrooms and onions to the edges to make room.  Put the skillet in the oven and let it cook to the point that you consider done.  I like my meat medium-rare, which worked out perfectly in the amount of time it took to get the rice going.  If you like your meat more cooked it’s going to take longer obviously, so for well done you might want to bump the oven up to 300 or 350.

Once your meat is cooked pull the pan out of the oven (remembering that the handle is just as hot as the rest of it), and transfer the steak, mushrooms and onions to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  How to tell if your meat is done?    Just get one of these and no more guesswork.

Assess what you’ve got in your pan.  You need at least 1.5-2 Tbsp of grease to make your gravy.  If you don’t have that much in the pan just add some butter or oil.   Put the pan over medium heat and add in the garlic, salt & pepper and saute for a minute till the garlic softens (but don’t let it turn brown).  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it around the pan till it forms a paste with the grease.   Let it cook for a minute to lose its raw flour taste and then slowly pour in the red wine while whisking madly.  Whisk whisk whisk.  It will be lumpy and messy at first.  Just keep whisking and it will smooth out.  While you are whisking out the lumps, make sure you scrape up all the good meaty bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Then (still whisking) pour in the stock, whisk till smooth and then turn the heat to medium-low and let it bubble away till it reduces to a good gravy consistency, stirring occasionally to make sure it’s not scorching on the bottom.

Slice up your steak, pouring off any accumulated juices into the gravy.   Taste the gravy and adjust seasoning if needed.  Then spoon gravy over the meat and dig in.  Mmmmmm…blurry meat….

Mushroom-Swiss Rice

Makes 4-6 servings.

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 baby bellas (or large button mushrooms), sliced thinly
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cup rice (long grain, not instant)
  • 1 cup veal or beef stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1- 1 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese

Melt butter in a large saucepan and saute mushrooms on medium-high heat, till starting to get golden brown and caramelized.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Push the onions off to the edge and scatter in a handful of the mushrooms in a single layer.  Let them cook without touching them until they get some color and then push that batch to the edges of the pan along with the onions and add another handful.  Continue until all the mushrooms are in the pan.  The bottom of the pan should be covered in brown bits at this point from the onions and mushrooms.  This is good.

Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and thyme.

Add the rice and mix well to coat with the seasoning and butter.  Let it saute for a minute and then pour in the stock, mixing well and thoroughly scraping the bottom of the pot to get all the browned bits loosened and dissolved.  Add the water and bring to a boil.   Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and let it simmer for ~15 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Sprinkle in the shredded swiss cheese and replace the lid to let the cheese get melty.   (1 minute or so)  Mix in the melted cheese and enjoy!

*A note on skillets: I like to use my 12″ cast iron skillet for steak (and cornbread, and pancakes and loads of other things), but anything that can go from the stove to the oven will work.  If you are in the market for a good skillet, cast iron works best.  They are cheap too, and pretty much indestructible.  I highly recommend them.  Lodge brand is good.

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As a quick break from fancy party food I thought I’d share a look at how we cook on a regular weeknight.  It’s not pretty but it tasted good.  Yesterday afternoon I pulled a pack of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs out of the freezer with the idea of making something “asiany.”   During work Mister and I emailed each other and settled on something along the lines of sesame chicken with the agreement that whoever got home first would get the chicken marinated.  So I came in the door and was greeted by a ziplock bag with chunks of chicken and a mysterious brown liquid.

So after a quick quiz to Mister on what was in the marinade, I started cooking and ended up with sesame chicken with mushrooms and brocoli, served over rice with a side of tamarind-cumin coleslaw.  We don’t really measure when we’re just cooking for us, so you’ll have to bear with me on the recipe.   Measurements are overrated, and skipping teaspoons and tablespoons make weeknight cooking much faster.   Just wing it, and it’ll still taste fine.

Sesame Chicken

This is totally not authentic, it’s just a mishmash of things that taste good together and can be found at the asian grocery store or the “ethnic” aisle of any grocery store.

Serves 4 (or two, w/ leftovers)

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (or other chicken pieces.  Whatever you like)
  • ~8 white or baby bella mushrooms – quartered  (I used a mix because that’s what I had.  Feel free to upgrade to shiitake or any other mushroom.  Or leave them out)
  • 1/2 yellow onion – sliced
  • 1 cup broccoli florets (I used frozen.  Fresh would be better.  Feel free to increase, this was the end of the bag for me)
  • splash of white wine or rice wine
  • 1-2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • Marinade/Sauce:
  • sesame oil (a good splash)
  • honey  (a big spoonful or two)
  • rice wine vinegar (or red wine, white wine, or maybe even cider vin)  (lots)
  • ginger (dried or fresh & grated)  (maybe a teaspoonish?)
  • garlic (powder or fresh and minced) (lots.  we love garlic.  Probably 2 Tbsp of dried.  ~3 cloves fresh.  adjust to your taste)
  • soy sauce (lots.  keep shaking)
  • crushed red pepper  (~1 Tbsp?)

Deskin the chicken and cut it off the bone into bite sized pieces.  Set the skin aside and either chuck the bones or do what I do and throw them into a gallon sized ziplock bag in the freezer to turn into stock sometime in the future.  Or skip that whole skin and bones thing and just cut up some boneless skinless chicken.  Combine the marinade ingredients and pour it over the chicken pieces and let it marinate for at least and hour, or longer if you want. (in the fridge)

Lay the chicken skin in a skillet and cook on medium heat until the fat is rendered out and then discard the now crispy chicken skin (or salt it and feed it to your husband).  Or just use some veggie oil.  ( I like using the rendered chicken fat because I hate throwing things away)   Get the oil/fat good and hot over medium high heat and then throw the mushrooms in there and don’t touch them until they are nice and brown on one side.  Give them a stir and let another side get brown.  Add the onions and cook them till they’re lightly browned and soft.   Add the splash of wine and scrape up all the nice brown bits in the bottom of the pan.  (you can use water or chicken stock if you don’t have wine handy)  Reduce the heat and dump in the chicken and marinade.

Bring it to a low boil/high simmer, throw a lid on it and let it bubble away.  In the meantime make some rice.

Once the chicken is cooked through taste the sauce and see if it needs adjusting.  If it’s too salty, add some more honey or some brown sugar.   Then mix in the broccoli and cook it just till tender.  Mix the cornstarch with a splash of water in a small bowl and whisk into the chicken mixture to thicken the sauce.  Simmer till the cloudiness goes away and it’s a good thickness.  Mix in the sesame seeds and remove from heat.

Serve over rice.

Tamarind Coleslaw loosely adapted from He Cooks, She Cooks

Serves 3-4

I love coleslaw.  Cabbage lasts forever in the fridge and it’s super cheap and filling and good for you.  There are endless variations of slaw, and this is just one of them.

  • 1/4 head of regular green cabbage (or napa or purple.)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (or maybe some carrots.  Or some other sturdy, colorful and sweet veggie)
  • 1/4 yellow onion
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste (I have tamarind concentrate, but you can also find it as a block of paste that needs to soaked in water and strained)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (or shaoxing or white wine vinegar)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • big pinch salt
  • couple of grinds of black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp olive or other oil

Finely shred the cabbage and onion using either a mandolin or a sharp knife and patience or the big slicey side of a box grater.  Cut the bell pepper into matchsticks.  Combine in a large bowl.

Whisk together the remaining ingredients and taste for balance.  It should be tart and a little sweet and have a nice musky kick from the cumin.  Pour over the veggies and toss.  Eat.

It’ll keep nicely in the fridge for a several hours, maybe up to a day, but after that it’ll start to get really soggy.  But I admit that I like it soggy.

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