Archive for January, 2013

Creamy Argentinian Shrimp Pappardelle

I love Trader Joe’s. There, I said it. Trader Ming, Trader Jose, Trader Giotto. Every. Single. One of ‘em. It’s almost creepy how devoted I am. Just last night, I was at a party when my favorite topic, food (surprise, surprise!) came up. Somehow, the conversation shifted toward my grocery store of choice. Poor, unsuspecting Eric (name has been changed to protect his identity from harassment by other TJ’s extremists) stated, “Trader Joe’s sucks.” This kid didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Trader Joe’s is the best grocery store there is. Somehow they’ve managed to make stocking up on perishables and boxes of rice the most fun, interactive event of one’s day (or at least mine). Not only is everything dirt cheap, but this mysterious Joe dude is constantly concocting new and unusual products (i.e. falafel chips, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, etc). Every excursion to Trader Joe’s feels like an adventure and any trip to competing super markets consequently feels dull. There’s just enough variety at Trader Joe’s to mix things up, but unlike madhouses like Shaw’s and Ralph’s, you don’t feel lost in aisle after aisle of frozen personal dinners and every brand of bread ever created. Nor are there any of those fluorescent lights that make you feel like you’re a mouse in a science fair experiment, with pupils dilated, as you scurry about frantically considering which kind of orange juice to buy. Trader Joe’s is simple and beautiful. Did you know that there are actual people who work for Trader Joe’s as sign painters? Since when does a grocery store care about art?! Since Trader Joe’s, that’s when.

Back when I was a wee little one, most of my family’s groceries came from TJ’s. I spent my younger years consuming orange chicken, Pasadena Salads, and Tofuti Cuties (before TJ’s made their own, less delicious version called Soy Creamies. Not your best, Joe). Whenever we’d need a special ingredient that Trader Joe’s didn’t have in stock, we’d go to Ralph’s or Gelson’s or Von’s to pick it up. All of a sudden, nostalgic memories of Ritz Crackers, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Jiff Peanut Butter would flood my brain. My mouth would water, and my dad, as vulnerable as I, would toss everything into the basket. The bliss was always short lived. The next week, we’d be back at TJ’s stocking up on mochi and nineteen-cent bananas.

Now, I do all my own grocery shopping, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Sorry Mom and Dad, I’m getting two desserts this time, and you can’t stop me. Usually, I go to the giant Mecca that is the Brookline Trader Joe’s with a list prepared. It usually looks something like this: “eggs, spinach, snacks, arugula, treats, lunch, Tigers Milk bars, rice pilaf” plus whatever Bon Appétit/Smitten Kitchen recipes I’ve decided to take on that week. Usually, I leave with all these things, plus a bunch of other stuff to which I couldn’t say no.

The other day, however, I wandered into Trader Joe’s with Matt. I had my usual vague list in hand, but we needed dinner, and I hadn’t gotten that far. We wandered and wandered, which wasn’t ideal since it was TJ’s rush hour and supplies were running out fast. What we came up with is the recipe below. It’s refreshing but hearty, so it’s a year-round palate pleaser.

The Argentinean shrimp, which tastes more like rich lobster than actual shrimp, is hard to come by at TJ’s because it’s so popular. Make sure to stock up on a few bags next time you make a visit. The Kaleidoscope Chard is colorful and sweet, which goes well with the tangy lemon. The goat cheese ties it all together with creaminess that puts alfredo to shame.

The best part about this meal is that all ingredients come from the happiest place on earth. Don’t believe me? If you’re like our friend Eric, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Ingredients: (serves 2-3 people)
·      Salt
·      Egg Pappardelle Pasta
·      6 tablespoons Olive Oil
·      5 cloves garlic, sliced
·      3 cups Kaleidoscope Chard
·      1 bag Argentinean Shrimp
·      Freshly ground black pepper
·      2 Lemons
·      Goat cheese to taste

1. Boil salted water and add pasta.
2. In a deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. Once oil is shiny, add half of sliced garlic. Add chard and mix to coat in oil. Cover skillet and let chard sauté on low heat for 10 minutes, using tongs to turn and mix every couple minutes.
3. Heat other 3 tablespoons of olive oil in large skillet. Once pasta and chard are almost ready (about 8 minutes for both), add rest of garlic to the second skillet. Add defrosted shrimp to skillet and lay each one flat. Then add black pepper and juice of one lemon to shrimp and flip after 1 minute. Cook on second side for 1 minute more and reduce heat to very low.
4. Add drained pasta and sautéed chard to shrimp skillet. Toss with tongs. Add juice of one lemon while mixing. Add a dash more olive oil if pasta seems dry.
5. Crumble in goat cheese, toss, and serve immediately.

Garlicky Rosemary Roast Chicken

On Wednesday, at 10 A.M. sharp, Winter Break will officially be over. Back I go to the world of over-committing myself and running around Boston like a madwoman. Last night, with just a few days of peace left, I decided to see the culmination of this break’s theme come to life. That theme? Roast chicken.

It was Christmas Eve in Woodside, California. Every year, aunts, cousins, professional taxidermists, and so on, gather at my grandparents’ beautiful home, complete with a horse-filled stable, a huge backyard, moss covered trees, and so many dogs and cats it’s hard to keep track. Every year we descend upon Nana Abby and Grandpa Arthur’s peaceful lives, eat copious amounts of guacamole and bask in the glory of the giant Christmas tree surrounded by gifts.

This year was a little different. The cousins were in Hawaii, Aunt Sarah was in India, and Chant, our family horse, had just recently passed away. The gang was smaller this year, so we decided on a low-key Christmas. The spiral ham I’d been dreaming about for weeks would not grace the beautifully decorated table this Christmas Eve. Instead, below the polished silver Reindeer, whose antlers held flickering tea light candles, was a giant platter of freshly carved roast chicken.

My dad and his rabbi sister had been charged with the task of preparing these chickens; a sort of shift in power, as Nana Abby usually prepares our Yuletide meal. Though disappointed in the lack of swine, I decided to take this opportunity by storm. I asked Dad if he could show me how to roast a chicken. The answer was yes, so I proceeded to follow him around the kitchen for a couple hours (along with my oh-so-beloved Labradoodle), nagging him with questions like “How much does a chicken cost?” and “Where do you get a Spanek?” and “Is it ready yet?”

Dad showed me the ropes and by the time he was carving the actual thing, I was no longer his Sous Chef but rather the carcass picker. You try being in a delicious smelling kitchen all day and not getting antsy!

When Christmas morning rolled around, the inventory under the tree was less than usual. We had decided to do a White Elephant gift exchange this year, (also called a Yankee Swap) so everyone brought one wacky gift and wrapped it without labels or cards. We all picked based on numbers we chose out of a hat…you know the deal. The trading rules were strict at first, but we all ended up haggling with each other at the end to get what we wanted. I found myself with an owl mask (don’t ask), until my very vegetarian-bordering-on-vegan aunt asked to trade. See, she didn’t want the owl mask exactly, but she had wound up with a chicken making kit and wanted nothing to do with it. As the resident foodie, she thought of me first. This was the first chicken gift of Winter Break 2012/2013.

The second was just as unexpected. One morning, a few days later, I asked Dad what he was up to during the day. “Oh, nothing,” he said suspiciously. “Whaaaat do you mean?” I said. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a surprise,” he said with a little smile. I decided to shut my mouth, though in my head I was thinking, “Nikes! Nikes! Nikes!” All day I dreamed about the awesome new kicks I’d sport at the gym back at school. When 5p.m. rolled around, he waltzed into the living room with a Sur La Table bag in hand. “Here ya go,” he said, reaching in and handing me a shiny, new, state of the art meat thermometer! It wasn’t what I was expecting, but hey, I was one step closer to roasting a chicken!

Later came the Spanek, an amazing cooking tool from Dad’s favorite store, Amazon.

On my last night in sunny Los Angeles, I visited a childhood favorite for some good n’ garlicky Cuban food. I’ve been going to Versailles since I was a kid, always splitting the #6 (extra rice, no beans) with whichever parent I was with. Since Mom’s in Idaho now, I went with Dad. We ordered the usual, plus a bottle of Mojo: the super secret, ultra amazing sauce that coats their moist chicken. But I’ll save that for a rainy day, or rather, a super busy day when I don’t want to make a fancy marinade like the one below.

Flying back to Boston, I had full cavalry of accoutrements with which to conquer the illusive beast that is a whole chicken.

However, with all my tools and a month’s worth of built up gusto, nothing could prepare me for the task of cleaning the raw chicken. There I was, yesterday afternoon, standing in front of my kitchen sink, holding a whole, four pound, raw chicken…slime and all. My hands gripped it tentatively under its wings. I stared at its pink de-feathered flesh, contemplating the life of the carcass I now beheld. It was foul. Ha.

I pulled through, removing its innards with my eyes half closed, and head turned away. As I washed the slime off my hands, I felt like Lady Macbeth. “Out damned spot!”

I was scarred for all of 30 seconds, for the sweet smell of the marinade I had just concocted soon masked the scary looking chicken. Cover anything in garlic, and I swear all will be well.

Later that night, as the chicken roasted in the oven, it filled my entire apartment building with its scent: sweet, garlicky, and juicy as all hell. At the end of the day, I felt triumphant. I mean, c’mon, a whole chicken is pretty intimidating!

This roast chicken is moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s economical and you will be left with plenty of leftovers. Don’t feel weird about the soy sauce in the recipe. It adds saltiness, but mostly helps the skin get all crispy and ridiculous. Garlic and rosemary are the resounding flavors, with just a hint of tang.

Ingredients
·      ¾ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·      ¼ cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
·      Zest of one lemon
·      2 sprigs fresh rosemary
·      4 cloves fresh garlic
·      1 teaspoon ground black pepper
·      ½ teaspoon sea salt
·      1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
Special Equipment
·      Spanek (get yours here!)
·      Baster with screw on “injector” (this one looks good)
·      Baster brush
·      Meat thermometer (I have this one. Thanks, Dad!)

1. In a jar, combine olive oil and soy sauce.
2. Mince garlic and add to jar.
3. De-stem rosemary. You can do this easily and quickly by holding the sprig with the points facing toward you. Hold your index finger and thumb at the end closest to you and squeeze, pushing away from you, down the stem. All the leaves will fall right off. Add rosemary to jar.
4. Zest a lemon using a microplane zester (next on my wish list) or the finest option on a cheese grater. Add zest to jar.
5. Add salt and pepper, seal jar, and shake.
6. Remove chicken from packaging and rinse with cold water. Make sure to remove the innards from inside the chicken.
7. Place chicken in a gallon sized freezer bag and pour in marinade. Use your hands to coat the chicken in the garlic and rosemary.
8. Seal bag and set aside in fridge for six hours.
9. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
10. Remove chicken from bag and place on Spanek, legs down. Make sure the Spanek is set in a pie dish or something like it.
11. Use the baster brush to coat the chicken in the marinade from the bag and pour whatever is left over the chicken.
12. Place in oven. Every fifteen minutes, use baster to coat chicken with the runoff in the pie dish. Use the injector to get those juices under the skin and into the meat. Check the temperature using your meat thermometer. The chicken is done when it registers at 165 degrees, after about one hour.
13. Remove from oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
14. Remove from Spanek, carve, and enjoy!

Bacon, Spinach & Gruyere Quiche

It’s been almost a year since my last Pantry Raid. A year ago, I was living in Rome, with a ginormous kitchen to call my own and a teensy tiny fridge to share with six other girls. Since then, I’ve raided quite a few pantries, including my Dad’s in Los Angeles, my Grandma’s in Tarzana (Deep Valley), my Mom’s in Idaho, one in Tahoe, another in San Francisco, and a few in Boston. It’s been a busy and delicious year, if you hadn’t guessed.

In September, I moved into my first Boston apartment. The kitchen is…cozy, with less legroom than my Roman abode offered but just enough to cook up a storm. Oh, and UPDATE! My childhood dream came true when Grandma Carol hooked me up with the best housewarming gift ever. That’s right folks, I am the proud owner of my very own KitchenAid mixer, in beautiful retro pistachio. She is amazing and I love her. Grandma’s not bad either.

But alas, all baked goods does not a healthy diet make (though imagine if it did). I’ve used skillets, saucepans, whisks, bowls, tongs, Tupperware, and a LOT of dishes to whip up three meals a day for me and whomever else I’ve coaxed into dining with me (it’s not actually very difficult). Without a meal plan, I’ve had to do this a lot, which means I’ve learned a thing or two. For one, crock pots are amazing. For two, great steak takes a skillet and an oven. For three, the difference between light cream, heavy cream and everything in between is fat content, which is necessary for thickening sauces. And for four, this girl can use a LOT of olive oil.

In the past year, I’ve learned about molecular gastronomy and how to roast a whole chicken. I’ve learned that sautéed spinach is the best thing ever and that rice pilaf is a close second. I am still in love with Trader Joes.

But stocking your own pantry makes for a lot less fun in raiding it. Which is why my inaugural 2013 post is not a Mermaid Lounge creation, but rather a Vermont one.

After a crazy semester of classes, extracurriculars, Statistics tutoring (don’t ask how), and a lot of good beer, some friends and I piled into Matt’s Saab and headed to the land of maple syrup: Vermont. We had rented a cabin from airbnb.com (I highly recommend this site for travelers on a budget/with a big group) and stocked up on the best ingredients for a delicious weekend of home cooking, skiing, and board games. I swear, Bon Appétit woulda had a field day with us.

Oh, and by the way, the world was allegedly ending while we were there. What better place to be eaten by zombies/abducted by aliens/condemned by an awful disease than in rural Vermont? If it had to happen, this was the place.

There were five of us. When the apocalypse struck, Matt would be the hunter and Emily the gatherer. Elijah would ration supplies and Liz would keep morale high. Naturally, I would be the chef.

When there was no apocalypse to be seen, heard, or felt, we went on eating and skiing and drinking and eating and playing Monopoly and drinking some more. We sat on the floor and played game after game, taking breaks only to refill on “Dam Sours,” our take on the Amaretto Sour (think whiskey, amaretto, simple syrup, lemon juice, and cider). We stayed up until all hours of the night and traversed the backwoods in search of fallen trees to climb and babbling brooks to cross.

I skied for the first time since age six, and consequently was covered in bruises the next day. I made it down the mountain without falling maybe once and more often than not found myself flying off the side of the slope into the forest. What can I say? I’m a tree hugger!

As far as food went, we each contributed at least one of our specialties. Matt made his famous chili, I made some ridiculous rosemary potatoes, Elijah made oven bacon (of which we do not speak), Liz perfected the Dam Sour, but Emily took the prize. I love a good Trader Joe’s quiche, but her’s put TJ’s and any other contenders’ to shame.

With bacon woven together at the bottom of the pie crust, topped by sautéed spinach perfection, and then finished of with creamy, eggy, cheesy goodness, this recipe is not only melt-in-your-mouth amazing, but pretty easy too! And that’s coming from a girl whose overall après ski condition was not in the best shape.

Emily whipped this thing up, with me as her sous chef, in no time, and thanks to Elijah’s distaste for quiche, I was happy to indulge in seconds.

Make this Bacon, Spinach & Gruyere Quiche for friends and family as a warm “good morning” or a refreshing après ski snack. And do it soon! You never know when the world might end…

Ingredients
·      6 pieces bacon
·      ½ cup chopped shallots
·      1 ½ bags spinach
·      1 cup half & half
·      3 large eggs
·      ½ teaspoon salt
·      ½ teaspoon black pepper
·      ¾ cup shredded Gruyere cheese
·      1 deep dish pie crust

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cook bacon in an ungreased skillet until slightly crispy, but still pliable. Remove from skillet and degrease with a paper towel.
3. Place three pieces of bacon alongside each other in the piecrust. Then weave the other three pieces perpendicular to them. Set aside.
4. In a large pot, sauté the chopped shallots over medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until flimsy and see-through. Add the spinach and cover the pot for 30 seconds or until the spinach begins to wilt. With a wooden spoon, move the spinach around until it has mostly been coated with oil. Continue to stir and turn spinach until it is bright, shiny, and just past the point of crunchiness. Remove from heat and use tongs to place the spinach on top of the woven bacon in the piecrust so it is distributed evenly.
5. In a medium sized mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine half & half, eggs, salt, and pepper. Then gently stir in the shredded Gruyere. Pour mixture over spinach and bacon so that it seeps into all the nooks and crannies.
6. Place in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and the cheese has created a nice browned topping. Let cool for ten minutes, cut into wedges, and serve immediately.

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