Pickled Shrimp

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Would you ever think to name a restaurant based on your childhood nickname? Well Gabrielle “Prune” Hamilton did exactly that. She is chef-owner of Prune, the restaurant, which has been successful since its opening in 1999. The cookbook, Prune, was published in 2014.

I enjoyed reading the recipes in Prune; they all seem unique in some way. But one recipe that grabbed my attention, was pickled shrimp. This was definitely a new one for me.

When I serve a shrimp appetizer, I typically serve it marinated in a garlic-infused olive oil, an oil blended with herbs, or both!

Ms. Hamilton’s recipe has you cooking the raw shrimp in a spice and herb boil, followed by a 24-hour pickling. I just had to make it.

Pickled shrimp
Printable recipe below

2 pounds shrimp in shell

Boil
10 bay leaves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 cup kosher salt
6 branches fresh thyme
1 unpeeled head of garlic
8 cups cold water

Pickle
1 cup paper-thin sliced lemons
1 cup paper-thin sliced red onion
1 cup thin-slivered garlic
1 cup inner celery leaves
3 tablespoons celery seeds
3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
12 fresh bay leaves
3 cups extra virgin olive oil
3 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt, Pepper

Peel the shrimp, devein, and leave the tails on. Oops, I forgot to leave the tails on.

Combine the boil ingredients in a large stockpot with cold water and bring to a boil.

Add the shrimp and cook for just a minute or two until the flesh turns pink. You can pull one out and test if it’s finished before you pull out the whole batch.

Remove the shrimp with a spider. Ice down the shrimp to get them to stop cooking, but don’t let them soak in the melted ice after they are cooled or you will waterlog them and undo all that nice seasoning.

Combine all the pickle ingredients, rub the fresh bay leaves between your hands to open them up a bit, toss with the cooled shrimp, and marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator. (I only had dried bay leaves.)

Let recover to almost room temperature before serving. To plate, place 4-5 shrimp and a little of all of the goodies, in a neat jumble, in a small, shallow bowl.

Note: The shrimp will continue to “cook” in the pickle marinade, so take care in the initial blanch to keep them rare; we don’t want to end up with mealy, over cooked shrimp after the pickling.



These shrimp were so good that you can almost see the number of shrimp dwindling as I photographed them!

These shrimp require some time and also a lot of good ingredients, so I recommend making 6-8 pounds of pickled shrimp. Then it’s definitely worth the effort and expense.

Gabrielle’s first book, Blood, Bones, and Butter, was published before her cookbook, in 2012.

It’s an award-winning memoir – the story of Gabrielle’s upbringing, her entrée into the culinary profession, and her reluctance to embrace her hard-earned skills and success in the kitchen. I could not put the book down once I started reading.

 

 

Asparagus Soup

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I enjoy a lot of food in its purest form. Like a ripe peach. A just-boiled potato with cheese. Radishes with butter and salt. A raw oyster immersed in its salty liqueur.

I love to cook, but I also respect beautiful, seasonal produce, like springtime asparagus and strawberries. I’d rather eat just-picked strawberries than put them in a batch of blondies, for example.

Likewise, with asparagus, preparing them simply steamed with a little olive oil and lemon is perfection to me.

However, I feel that creating a soup with fresh asparagus isn’t disrespectful. As long as you allow the asparagus to shine.

So here’s my version of asparagus soup. There’s an extra step making asparagus broth with the ends, then completing the soup. Thanks to my girlfriend Gabriella for teaching me this!

Springtime Asparagus Soup
printable recipe below

2 bunches of fresh asparagus, about 2 pounds total
1 small onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
A sprig of parsley
1 bay leaf
Pinch of salt
Chicken stock, about 32 ounces
2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
White pepper, optional

Rinse the asparagus gently in cool water. Remove the tough ends by breaking them off where they tell you to.


Set aside the asparagus for later, wrapped in a damp cloth.

Place all of the ends in a medium stock pot. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, a pinch of salt, and cover with the chicken stock.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, let the mixture cool, then pour through a colander, collecting the asparagus stock in another pot.

Add the asparagus and the butter to the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, until the asparagus has softened.

Let the soup cool, then pour everything into a large blender.


Purée the soup, adjusting the amount of liquid, depending on the consistency you prefer.

Taste for salt. Season with white pepper if desired

Serve hot or warm.

Add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche if desired. Or flower petals.

This is a very thick soup. I you prefer, substitute some cream for some of the broth.

 

 

The Briner

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My sister-in-law and I share a serious love of cooking, so her gifts are always spot on. For my birthday she sent me something really unique, called “The Briner.” It’s a large, plastic container designed for brining meat.

As you can see in the below right photo, there is an inside “lid” that holds meat down inside the container and keeps it submerged in the brine. It’s ingenious!

To quote from The Briner website, this patented product “resolves the #1 challenge to successful brining – floating food! Simple design, easy to use, easy to clean, works great.”

Previously, I’d used my largest, deepest pot for brining, and had to stack heavy plates on top of the meat in order to keep it from floating, especially the few times I brined a whole turkey or chicken.

Not being an expert briner, I looked to Paul from That Other Cooking Blog, who is obviously a proponent of brining. I’ve followed Paul for years now; his blog is also a great resource for sous vide cooking. Plus, his professional photography is featured in a cookbook entitled, “The Essential Sous Vide,” published in 2016.

Isn’t that one gorgeous photo on the cover??!!

So I asked Paul some basic brining questions. In a nutshell, here’s what he said.

“Everything is brinable.”

Paul said a lot more than that – he’s quite generous with his knowledge, but that’s the gist of what he said. And I guess, why not?!!

He also brines and then uses his sous vide. That almost hurt my brain to think of how exceptional protein could turn out with everything going for it!

And again, why not?!! So I decided to brine with The Briner, and sous vide a pork loin chunk.

Those of you who don’t own a sous vide machine, I highly recommend you look into one.

This is the model I own. (above) It’s half the size as the commercial sous vide, less expensive, and perfect for a small family.

To me, it’s an essential appliance, especially for tough cuts – brisket, flank and hanger steaks – and easy-to-overcook cuts, like pork and chicken.

Here’s what I did for the brine.

1 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 pound pork loin
2 oranges, quartered
1 onion, quartered
A few smashed garlic cloves
Rosemary
Thyme
Sage
Bay leaves
Star Anise
Cloves
Some crushed juniper berries

Using a large pot, combine the salt and sugar with the water and heat until dissolved. Set aside the pot to let the mixture cool.

Place the pork loin in The Briner, or a large pot. Pour cooled brine over the top.

Add the remaining ingredients, squeezing the orange pieces a bit into the brine.

If the meat is not covered by the brine, add some more cold water.

Then add the lids to The Briner, place in a cool place like a cold garage or refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours.

After brining, rinse the pork, and dry off well.

Vacuum seal the loin and keep chilled until the sous vide is ready. You can season the pork, add more herbs, and even add butter to the pork before sealing, but I did not.


Preheat the sous vide to 135 degrees. The pork will be done after 12 hours. Plan according to whether you will be removing the pork and immediately browning it and serving it, or if you plan to refrigerate it overnight first.

Here’s what it looks like after the sous vide process.

Brown the pork in a little oil, seasoned with a good garlic pepper or seasoning of your choice. You can brown the whole chunk of loin, but I decided to slice it into serving pieces first.

Honesly, the pork is ready to eat after the sous vide’ing, but most people are put off by pink pork!

I served the pork with a creamed spinach.


Then I tasted the pork. Oh my.

I tasted the brine ingredients!

I could taste the onion and orange, specifically. The depth of flavor was tremendous.

And, of course, the pork was super tender from the sous vide process.

So young Paul was right. Why not take advantage of all the tools and tricks we have to create the best food possible!

Meatballs in Creamy Caper Sauce

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It’s commonplace to pair meatballs and a red sauce, but this recipe is a lovely alternative. The only prerequisite is that you must love capers!

This recipe comes from one that most likely I copied from a cookbook borrowed from the local library. It’s from the days I had higher priorities than spending lots of money on cookbooks, so I simply borrowed the books, read them, and marked the recipes I wanted to keep. Then my husband would use the copier at work; he was always very nice about this. But, of course, he always got fed well so it was a win-win for him!

I’d then cut out the recipes and glue them on cards. But unfortunately, I cannot share with you the source of this recipe because I never thought to add those details to the recipe cards. It’s really sad that I didn’t, and I apologize to you as well.
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I’ve made this recipe the way it is on the card, and it’s divine. I’m pretty sure I made it for other people, because my husband won’t eat capers.

The recipe involves meatballs, that you make any way you want, but they must be made on the small side, and then they’re boiled/steam cooked in a seasoned broth. From the broth you make the sauce, which involves sour cream and capers.
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On this post, I’m not really focusing on the meatballs, because everyone has her/his own favorite recipes for meatballs, but more on the way they’re cooked, as well as the sauce. The dish is not terribly photogenic, but really tasty.


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Meatballs in a Creamy Caper Sauce

Meatballs:
1/2 ground pork, 1/2 ground turkey, white meat only, 12 ounces each
1/2 small onion, diced
2 eggs, beaten
Some amount of breadcrumbs, I used dried, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Coarsely ground black pepper
Parsley, which I forgot to put in the meatballs*

In an extra large bowl, place the meats, the onion, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Then add the seasonings.

Use your hands and mix everything together well, without over mixing. You don’t want the meatballs to turn out dense.

Using a scoop, if you feel you need one, form the meat mixture into small balls, about 1″ in diameter.

Meanwhile, pour 1 cup of chicken or beef broth into a large, flat skillet. I used chicken broth powder to season the water.

The original recipe called for lemon juice, a strip of lemon peel, a bay leaf, and some pickling spices to be added to the broth. I decided to make my broth a little more on the herbaceous side. I also omitted the lemon altogether.

I picked some fresh oregano, parsley, and rosemary and placed them in the broth, along with a few bay leaves. Then I simmered the broth for about 15 minutes. You could always do this step first, before you make the meatballs.

When the broth is ready, remove the herbs. Adjust the amount of liquid, if necessary; there should be about 1/4″ minimum on the bottom of the skillet. Make sure the broth is simmering, then add a batch of meatballs.

Cover the skillet and let the meatballs cook through. This will hardly take 5 minutes or so; you could always check one to see if it’s just done in the middle. You don’t want to overcook them.


Remove the cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon, place them on a clean platter, and continue with the remaining batches. You’re left with some meat and onion bits in the seasoned broth, but that didn’t bother me. If it bothers you, pour the liquid through a sieve, and then back into the skillet. You should still have about 3/4 cup – 1 cup of liquid. This will dictate the amount of sauce you end up with, so adjust accordingly.

At this point, with the broth simmering, add a teaspoon of cornstarch and whisk well, then add 2 heaping tablespoons of sour cream or creme fraiche. Whisk well, then stir in about 1/4 cup of capers.

Add the amount of meatballs you want smothered with this sauce, and leave the rest for another purpose. Cook the meatballs gently, turning them around in the sauce. Give them a minute, and then serve.

I served these meatballs to myself with some steamed asparagus, and it was a very nice combination. The original recipes suggests egg noodles, which would work if you have a lot of sauce.

If desired, top the meatballs with a few more capers and some chopped parsley before serving.

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* I feel that parsley is really underappreciated and under used, especially in the U.S. I think we still think of it as only a garnish on a plate. But in meatballs, for example, it not only adds a fresh flavor and a pretty color, but it adds moisture as well. But omit it if you don’t love it.

note: In the original recipe, you are also supposed to add chopped capers to the meatballs, which is a very good addition. Since my husband was going to be eating a majority of these meatballs, I omitted them.
Also, think about the different ways that you can season the broth, using peppercorns, allspice, star anise, orange peel, garlic, and much more. It’s a brilliant way to add flavors to the basic broth base of the sauce.
Also, I didn’t add any salt to either the meatballs or the sauce; I feel that the capers lend enough saltiness, but this is your choice.

Dipping Oil

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Recently, a girlfriend of mine asked me if I had a recipe for dipping oil. And I was taken aback. I have never made a dipping oil before. I love them – in fact I love when restaurants serve their hot breads with the combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. As long as I don’t choke on the vinegar, it’s absolutely the most decadent treat. But I’ve never served that at home.

I looked up dipping oils on Williams-Sonoma, just for the heck of it, and what I found really shocked me. Now as you all know, I’m a huge fan of Williams-Sonoma, and I’ve probably single handedly built a few stores from my purchases over the years. But these dipping oils are $12.95 for one 8.5 ounce bottle!

Even considering a high quality olive oil as the base for these seasoned oils, I still find these overpriced. Here are the varieties that can be purchased:

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Pesto recreates the bright flavors of the classic Italian sauce with basil, walnuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and tangy lemon.

Herbs de Provence is a French-inspired blend of herbs de Provence, black pepper, lemon and a hint of Dijon mustard.

Parmesan Garlic is a rich, savory combination of aged parmesan cheese, roasted garlic and Mediterranean herbs.

Rosemary Garlic features a Mediterranean-style blend of rosemary and fragrant garlic, highlighted by tangy lemon and a touch of Dijon mustard.

Sun-Dried Tomato showcases the rich sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes, accented with basil, shallots and spices.

They all sound really good, but the first thing I thought of, not surprisingly, is that they can easily be made at home!

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So I decided to do just that. I started with a clean jar, and then added these ingredients:

Spiced and Herbed Dipping Oil

Good quality olive oil, although any good oil could be used
peppercorns, a nice colorful variety
dried chile peppers
some lavender sprigs
a sprig of rosemary
a couple sprigs of thyme
a few bay leaves
a couple of peeled garlic cloves

Then I shook everything up and let the jar sit in my pantry for 2 weeks. I didn’t add salt, nor did I add cheese. I felt that those ingredients could be added at the time when I serve the dipping oil with bread.

I usually do a separate post for liqueurs and such that take a couple of weeks to “age” properly, but in this case, the oil was ready right before Thanksgiving. So I’ve already played with it, and I am impressed.

I firstly used a funnel with a sieve attached to pour some of the oil into a small dipping bowl.

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And then the tasting began. Or, uh, testing. The taste was spectacular by itself, but I did add some salt.
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Then I added some balsamic vinegar for fun.
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It was a fabulous combination; the vinegar didn’t overwhelm the oil because it’s pretty potent itself.
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I will definitely play with making these oils again. So many different possibilities!
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