Saturday, December 29, 2012

Linguine with Shellfish Fra Diavolo



(SECOND TITLE) DON'T BE SELFISH WITH YOUR SHELLFISH

My husband, John, and I are a very competitive pair.  "I will smoke you" is a common phrase heard in our house. You can always find us trying to beat each other answering trivia questions first on Cash Cab or playing dominos or even trash-talking while playing foosball. (Yes, we have a foosball table.  It's the hit of the neighborhood.)  So what does that have to do with food or a food blog?  Well, I'll tell you.  As my biggest fan, John came up with a way to be competitive in the kitchen, not necessarily against each other (this isn't Iron Chef), but by issuing me challenges.  He also kind of wins here by challenging me.  It means he gets to eat great food!

A couple of years ago, he challenged me to learn how to make tortillas and even bought me a tortilla press, carefully selected in San Antonio and lovingly brought back home.  So I did a lot of tortilla research and printed out a bevy of recipes to try, from plain (but fabulous) to flavors like jalapeno and cheese and roasted garlic.  On our very first night of trying out those recipes for these delicious disks of the Mexican version of sliced bread, ready to eat them slathered with butter (ah, butter...), John wanted to help press the tortillas.  But alas, with his sheer brute strength, eager to reap the rewards of his work, he snapped the handle right off of the tortilla press!  After that, I rolled them out for a while with a rolling pin.  They look great that way, rustic and homemade.  However, thanks to my beautiful Mother-in-Law,  now I have a heavy-duty John-proof cast iron tortilla press.

Since then, he has issued me many challenges from enchiladas to the best queso ever to Chinese food (we'll discuss that much later).  The most recent food challenge throwdown he issued me was linguine with clams (in the shells).  Piece of cake, I said.  (Why do we say that?  Cake isn't always that easy).  Besides, I've watched a gazillion cooking shows and have seen these things cooked before.  How hard could it be?  Actually, not hard at all!

So we headed down to our local supermarket to acquire said mollusks to devour for dinner.  As I headed over to pick out some shallots and a loaf of right-out-of-the-oven Asiago Parmesan bread (I have a bread-baking handicap which I am determined to overcome), I left him in charge of making the seafood selections.  Not only did he pick out a pound of Littleneck clams, he also bought a pound of mussels, a pound of gargantuan shrimp, and a half-pound of bay scallops.  So I thought, okay, game on.  I can do all of it justice.

Being a planner, a thinker, an obsessive organizer, and a big fan of Diet Coke with Splenda (I walk faster than everyone too...all that caffeine), I resigned myself to making Linguine with Shellfish Fra Diavolo.  Oh, yes, the "Devil's Brother."  No, I'm not actually cooking anyone's brother, devil or otherwise.  It just means a spicy dish.  And we really like it hot!  Be careful with the spices unless you're a brave spicy soul.  I next decided that I would make my own seafood stock to further deepen the seafood flavor of this bellissimo broth to sop up with a freshly baked loaf of bread.  My son, who is the most ridiculously picky child on Earth (okay, probably normal picky like most kids), ate the majority of the clams!  Thank goodness John bought an abundance of seafood!

For my recipe, I must include an advance warning:  We cook like we're feeding the whole neighborhood, not a family of four.  And the abundance of seafood required an abundance of pasta and delicious broth to cover it.  So feel free to cut the recipe in half if you don't want to eat it for the next week.  We love leftovers, and they are often eaten for breakfast.  Don't hate on the leftovers.  Throw a fried egg on top of your leftover pasta so you'll feel like it's breakfast.

An additional aspect I added to this muy fabuloso dish is what I call steak butter.  Have you ever been to a steak restaurant and there was this gorgeous pat of flavored butter softly melting away on a beautiful steak?  That, my friends, is steak butter.  I call it that because that's what I created it for.  But I use this decadent butter medley for many things.  The linguine here is one of those things.  A savory blend of rich butter married with fresh parsley, a touch of lemon juice, garlic (of course!), salt, and cracked black pepper.  Try it.  You'll be hooked!

Another thing you'll notice about this meal is the abundance of ingredients.  No, I don't have an endless budget or a rich uncle.  I also work six days a week and have two children and a house to keep.  I'm just a hyperactive overachiever.  However, I am a fan of Extreme Couponing and stockpiling ingredients.  I promise all my recipes aren't so laden with ingredients.  This one just happens to be.  It's also a recipe that will take a little time since you have to make seafood stock (**peel your shrimp early in the day and save the shells for your seafood stock.**)  Feel free to substitute with store-bought seafood stock (my store doesn't carry it) or even chicken stock.  It's your dinner.  Own it!!

So here goes nothing!



LINGUINE WITH SHELLFISH FRA DIAVOLO
1 lb Littleneck clams
1 lb mussels
1 lb shrimp (any size will do; we like the big ones)
1/2 lb bay scallops
2 lb linguine
1 lemon
2 T Italian parsley, chopped
6 C seafood stock (recipe to follow) or chicken stock
1 C white wine (any flavor that suits your fancy)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 shallots, chopped
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper (amount optional...it's hot!)
1/4 tsp red chili flakes (ditto!)
1/4 tsp red chili paste (it's really hot!!  found in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 recipe of steak butter (recipe follows)

Ask your fishmonger or seafood counter person if you need to debeard the mussels.  If you do, ask them how to pull the outer little hairy thing from the shell.  When you get home from making your seaworthy acquisition of these precious little treats in a shell, open the butcher paper and the bag (clams and mussels need to breathe) and put them in the coldest spot of the fridge until you're ready to cook.  This keeps them alive but stunned.  20 minutes before cooking time, fill the sink up with cold water and soak the clams and mussels.  This allows them to digest water and pass out any sand or grit.  If they don't close their shells when tapping them on the counter, they are dead.  Throw them away.  Otherwise, they can all join the party.  (This is also a good time to do your prep work like chopping and such.)

Get your pasta water going so it's ready when you are.  Now saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil over medium heat about 3 to 4 minutes.  Be careful, though.  Garlic burns easily.  Next add in the wine.  After about another minute, add the stock, cayenne, red pepper flakes, chili paste, the juice of your one lonely lemon, and parsley.  Season with a little salt and pepper to your own liking.  Bring to a boil and then back off the heat to medium high.

Now drop your pasta (water should be boiling now) and add the clams and mussels to the pot. 



It takes about 8 minutes or so for them to be done.  How do you know they're done?  The shells open.  If they don't open, throw them away.  They are bad and get kicked off the linguine island.

You're almost done!  Now is the time to put some garlic bread in the oven to toast if it suits your fancy.  Drain the pasta and mix the steak butter in with the linguine.  Drop the shrimp and scallops in the broth.  They only need 3-4 minutes, so make sure everything else is ready to go so the little shrimpys don't overcook.

That's it!  Just pile some pasta in a bowl and ladle some broth and shellfish over the top.  Sop it up with the bread and enjoy this wonderous delight!!

See, we weren't selfish with the shellfish!!

SEAFOOD STOCK

Shells from 1 lb shrimp
1 onion, rough chopped (you can even leave the skin on...it gets strained later)
8 C water
2 carrots, rough chopped (don't have to peel)
2 ribs celery, rough chopped
1 green bell pepper, rough chopped
4 cloves of garlic, smashed (skins on again if you want)
1 tsp chicken bouillon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp thyme
4 bay leaves
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp onion flakes
1 tsp granulated garlic (or powder)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp Italian parsley (just pull the leaves off...don't bother with chopping)
Salt & pepper

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium high.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for an hour or so.  Strain with a really fine strainer.  **Unused stock can be frozen for later!**



STEAK BUTTER

1 stick of butter, softened (salted, please!)
1 T chopped Italian parsley
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp lemon juice

Mash this all together.  When you're satisfied that it's mixed, plop it on some Saran Wrap and kind of shape it in a tube.  Wrap it up and put in in the fridge.  Slice it up for melting on steaks, in pasta, or as a starter for cooking onions or other veggies.  Yum!!

Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup with Poblanos and Posole



Winter is certainly not my favorite time of year.  Sure, I love the holidays and enjoy time with family.  It's just the dang cold I don't like.  And I like snow even less, which makes me outnumbered in my house because everyone else loves snow.

But there is one thing I dearly love about winter...THE FOOD!!  Soups and stews and pot roasts and potatoes, all darn tasty things.  So last night my food of choice was Chicken Tortilla Soup with Poblanos and Posole.  What's posole, you ask?  Well, it's hominy, corn's heartier, more savory cousin.  Since I live in Texas which is rich in Hispanic culture, I call it posole.  And nothing beats a roasted poblano.  I put them in soups and queso and enchiladas.  They have a mild heat and rich flavor that enhances whatever it's in.

Now, my husband was never a soup fan until he met me.  Soup just didn't seem to be a filling meal in his mind.  His experience with soup was eating a dismal showing of flavored broth with minimal morsels of anything else.  But, when I make soup, sometimes I think there are more beautiful chunks of meat and veggies than broth.  But it's a substantial kind of thing to sit by the fire and devour.

I know there are plenty of tortilla soup recipes out there, but this one is packed with flavor and a little heat, too.  I think you'll find it's worth a try!



CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP WITH POBLANOS AND POSOLE

1 onion, diced
3 serrano peppers, diced (use more or less depending on how spicy you want it)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 poblanos, roasted, seeded and chopped (see instructions below)
4 cups chicken stock
2 lbs chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 15-ounce can of posole, drained and rinsed
2 15-ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 T cumin
2 T chili powder
2 T garlic powder
2 T onion powder
Crushed red pepper flakes (to suit your taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package of corn tortillas, cut into strips

Garnishes:
Chopped avacado
Shredded cheese of choice (we used colby jack)
Sour cream
Chopped cilantro

To roast the poblanos, throw them on a sheet pan and in the oven at 400 degrees and cook, turning occasionally, until charred all over.  Let them cool and then peel the skins off.  Slice them open and remove the seeds and stem before chopping.

Cook onions and serranos in olive oil until tender.  Add in the chicken stock and remaining soup ingredients.  Fill the pot (I used a 6-quart dutch oven) with enough water to cover the soup.  Let the soup boil about 20 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, while the soup is cooking, place the corn tortilla strips on a sheet pan. Spray with cooking spray and seasoned salt (I use Lawry's) and spread in an even layer.  Cook at 400, turning frequently, until crunchy and golden.  It doesn't take long, so keep your eyes on them.

Serve the soup over the tortillas and garnish with toppings you like!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Breakfast for Two


It's very rare that I get to only cook for two.  My husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy breakfast alone this morning, and it was a great one.  Now, I'm not saying we don't enjoy our children at all.  Our 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, and 12-year-old son, Trevor, are the greatest joys in our lives.  However, sometimes Momma needs a break!  And Dad needs some spoiling sometimes too!

So we woke up on this very cold day (10 degrees!) wondering what in the world could we do for breakfast.  We usually only cook a big breakfast on Sundays, and our favorite breakfast choice is breakfast tacos...bacon (or sausage), eggs, potatoes, and cheese (I dare you to try sliced cheese here) in a tortilla.  But not today.  No, today was one of those leisurely days that I had time to ponder great things, time to invent and create, time to be inspired.  I found my inspiration not in the fridge, but in the cabinets.  I once bought a set of shallow, oval, avacado-green ceramic ramekins, about 8 1/2 inches long.  And, of course, immediately I thought of baked eggs.  Didn't you?

So, as I shuffled around the kitchen in my slippers and PJs, I gathered up some savory ingredients to build a masterpiece...baked eggs.  But not just baked eggs, baked eggs my way.  What are baked eggs, you say?  Baked eggs in France are called "oeufs en cocotte" which means "eggs in ramekins."  They are also known as "shirred eggs."  But I'm calling mine Brilliant Baked Eggs.  Just because they are.  Eggs and bacon are best friends, and potatoes and cheese are their favorite cousins.  They all play together so well! 

But all playground talk aside, you are probably wondering why the heck my baked eggs are so special.  Well, I'll tell you.  My baked eggs are like a whole breakfast in one, like all your favorite things wrapped up in one package, like the whole kit and kaboodle.  Well, you get it.  Hashbrowns, eggs, cheese, bacon, green onions, serranos, and onions all in one little avacado-green ramekin.  The greatness about this dish is the hashbrowns bake into the eggs and the cheese melts in and you break the soft yolk to ooze its yellow goodness all over the whole thing.  Leave out the serranos if your tongue is spicy-food challenged, but I dare you to try it with the serrano.  As a side note, serranos are now my favorite peppers to eat.  I used to think jalapenos were the way to go. But a tiny little serrano, half the size of a jalapeno, packs a slightly hotter heat than the jalapeno.  And the flavor is spot on!  And one other side note:  I take very few shortcuts when cooking, i.e., buying pre-done products to cook with.  However, one exception I have is hashbrown potatoes.  The frozen ones are a pretty good product and far easier than trying to shred and dry out potatoes.  I just find that you get a much crispier result with the frozen ones.

So without further adieu, I give you Brilliant Baked Eggs!


BRILLIANT BAKED EGGS (FOR 2)

For the hashbrown layer:
1 cup frozen hashbrowns
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1/4 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

For the egg layer:
4 slices bacon, chopped and cooked halfway (they continue to cook on the eggs)
4 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used colby-jack)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
Chopped green onions for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  To cook the hashbrowns, heat about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet on medium-high heat.  Add in the serranos and onions and cook about a minute.  Stir in hashbrowns.  Sprinkle garlic powder and salt and pepper over the top.  To get crispy hashbrowns, don't stir.  Wait 3 to 4 minutes and flip them with a spatula.  Season the other side and continue browning the same way on the other side until done.  Remove from heat and strain on a paper towel. 

Generously butter two ramekins (or two small, shallow baking dishes) to prevent sticking.  Divide the hashbrowns between the ramekins and spread in an even layer.  Crack two whole eggs over the hashbrowns in each ramekin, being careful not to break the yolks.  Use the remaining two egg whites to fill in where there isn't enough egg.  Sprinkle the bacon on one side of each ramekin, cheese on the other.  Sprinkle the parsley on the ends of each ramekin.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top.  Here's what you've got now:

If you want hard yolks, cook about 15 minutes or until done.  However, if you want soft, runny yolks, the timing is crucial.  Set your timer for 9 minutes and then start babysitting.  Check every minute to see if the whites are done and the yolks are soft.  It will be anywhere from 9-13 minutes, depending on your oven.  When done, sprinkle the green onions over the top and enjoy!  Here's the finished product:


Now stick your fork in, break those yolks, and savor the brilliance that these eggs are!!