Ouzo Poached Shrimp with Tomatoes and Corn Salad

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer equals color and bright flavors so this salad sort of composed itself one day. Taking small but sweet Key West shrimp that I poached in ouzo with orange and spices made the perfect starting point for this composed salad. Sweet cherry tomatoes and corn balanced with scallions and peppery arugula fill out the salad which is topped with (of course) salty Greek feta cheese. This salad is fun, it's so colorful, it's incredibly flavorful, and easy. Just perfect for hot summer nights. Enjoy it.
 Ouzo Poached Shrimp with Tomatoes and Corn Salad
1 cup key west shrimp (or other shrimp, shells and tails removed)
1/4 cup ouzo
1 small orange, quartered
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 tsp black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half
1 ear of corn -- husked and kernals cut off from ear
4 cups arugula
2 scallions, trimmed and sliced thinly
mint lemon vinaigrette (recipe below)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
feta cheese (optional)
First, make the poached shrimp.

Take a saucepan and fill it about 1/2 way with cold water. Add the ouzo, peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaf. Take the orange quarters and squeeze the juice into the water, then drop the quarters whole in as well. Add a little salt to taste (I do about 1/2 tsp). This is your poaching liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat down so it's barely simmering. Cover with lid and let simmer for about 10 minutes so flavors can infuse. Turn off heat and add the shrimp in all at once. Let shrimp stay in poaching liquid until they turn opaque in color and are just firm to the touch -- around a minute, maybe minute and half (time will depend on how large your shrimp are). Remove with slotted spoon (as seen above) and let stand to cool. Discard poaching liquid.

While the poaching liquid infuses, you can make the corn. Heat a little olive oil in a small sauté pan. Add the corn kernels and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 5 minutes -- the corn will turn bright yellow. Let stand to cool.

To assemble the salad, simple place the arugula in a large mixing bowl. Add the scallions, corn, tomatoes, and shrimp. Season with some salt and pepper to taste. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Top with feta cheese and serve immediately.

Lemon Mint Vinaigrette

This is a super versatile vinaigrette with a lovely bright flavor. The jalapeno gives it a nice kick that is unexpected but most loved. It compliments especially arugula, spinach, and watercress for greens and goes with most vegetables as well. It's particularly nice paired with the salty feta cheese, but you can use any goat cheese you like really (although feta really is the best for this!)

1 lemon (or lime) -- juiced
1/2 jalapeno, very finely chopped (keep the seeds for spicy; get rid of them for more mild version)
1 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
good quality olive oil

Combine the juice, jalapeno and mint leaves in a bowl (see above). Next, vigorously whisk in the oil until combined and thickened. Immediately pour over the salad and toss to combine.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Dip with Toasted Ciabatta

This dish is one of my new go-to appetizers. So flavorful and tasty, and the best part is it was born out of leftovers and desperation for dinner idea one night! (I love when that happens.) I had some leftover roasted eggplant from the night before and always have jars of basic marinara sauce in the cupboard. Tired of pasta dishes and staring at a fresh ciabatta loaf, I decided to do a take on a favorite baked pasta dish and turn it into a dip instead. I cut the eggplant into small pieces and mixed it into some sauce. On top -- some grated fontina cheese topped with a mixture of garlic, fresh herbs, and panko bread crumbs. Baked in the oven until piping hot and crispy, I served it with some toasted bread to dip right in. It was delicious, light but filling, and as you can see from the pictures yourselves, simply gorgeous.

This is just perfect for a quick and easy appetizer or part of a lighter meal. You'll love this. And yes, you have to use panko bread crumbs -- nothing else will get that crispy texture that makes this dish so special!

Enjoy it!

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Dip with Toasted Ciabatta 
about 1/2 cup cubed, roasted eggplant*
1 1/2 cup favorite marinara sauce
1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 tsp each: dried thyme, dried oregano
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, very finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic -- skin removed but kept whole
salt and freshly ground black pepper
ciabatta bread, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated fontina cheese (recommend: Fontal)

special equipment: ramekin with lid, or some other container; French onion soup croques are great

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the eggplant, marinara sauce, and fresh basil and transfer mixture into baking ramekin.

In a separate bowl, place the panko bread crumbs, dried thyme and oregano, and parsley.  Take one of the garlic cloves (saving the other for the bread) and finely chop it, then add it to the panko mixture. Add a small pinch of salt and some pepper and then a small drizzle of olive oil -- just enough to moisten the crumbs so it's a little drier than wet sand consistency -- and mix all together to combine.

Add the fontina right on top of the eggplant marinara dip, then add the panko mixture right on top of the cheese. Cover with top and bake in oven about 25 minutes for flavors to meld and to get hot. Remove the lid and continue to cook about another 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and top is golden and crispy. Remove and let stand before serving.

To make the bread, take the sliced ciabatta and layer them out on one even layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle or brush one side with olive oil and season with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Bake in 400 degree oven (or broil, or can grill) until lightly golden. While still quite warm, take the other whole garlic clove and rub it onto the toasted side of the bread.

To serve, place sauce on plate and flank with bread slices. Serve hot.

*Roasted eggplant is wonderful not only on its own, but thrown into pasta dishes or even pureed into dips. To make, simply take a large, ripe and perfectly deep purple eggplant and cut off both ends. The skin can be a little tough, especially if you plan to use this pureed in a dip, so peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise (so you have two long halves) and then slice each half into thirds. Next, cut into cubes (or bite-sized pieces). Take a baking sheet and line it with paper towels. Place the eggplant pieces on one even layer and sprinkle some salt on top (no pepper) -- the salt will help draw out the immense moisture in the eggplant, so you won't have to use as much oil when cooking. This also helps retain more of an eggplant taste rather than a soggy, more oily taste. Cover the top with another layer of paper towels and let stand about 45 minutes. Remove and season with pepper and some olive oil then roast in the oven at 375 until tender and just beginning to caramelize, about 25 minutes. Remove and eggplant is ready to be eaten or used in a dish!

American Vintage Picnic Party

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holy smokes, things have been busy...
Kiddos all home for the summer has me balancing work with keeping them interested in life. Add to that The Husby's busy work schedule (what else is new?) and it's a recipe for much needed cocktails. But that's another blog entirely. For now, I spend the next few weeks catching up on the blog with all the new stuff I've been working on!
Among the things includes this party for an American Vintage Picnic I did this past weekend. We held the party at a nearby lake which was fabulous -- plenty for the kids to do, lots of fun swimming in the lake, fabulous natural surroundings. But doing a party outdoors especially if you have lots of craft and presentation elements can be a logistical nightmare. At the end of the post I offer some tips I learned from experience. But for now, enjoy some pictures!
I really focused this time on the dessert table.

Red checkered table cloths were an obvious choice for the table linens, offering color and cute vintage charm. I purposely went with plastic on this one for an easy clean up, but for a fancier affair like a wedding or shower I'd suggest going with true linen.

I took some wooden crates I tipped over to add both a rustic, casual feel to the table as well as height, using them to flank both sides of the table. Sitting atop and inside were homemade candy apples and red velvet cupcakes (recipe in the cookbook!). Two vintage-inspired pie plates houses two pies made from a local farm, and apothecary jars and candle holders dressed up with pretty ribbon and simply made tags compromised most of the middle of the table.

The colors I went for were red, white, dark and light blues. It was "Americana" without feeling overwhelmingly "leftover 4th of July." Incidentally, the colors would yield perfectly to a Dr. Seuss party as well. I mixed vintage-inspired patterns like sweet polka dots with the papers and ribbons, delicate hand-stitched ribbon, damask and chevron papers with crisp white, good quality hardstock paper for tags. 

I really tried to have a mix of textures here as well: wooden crates added a perfect natural element to the table, mini-metal wash bins (housing the marshmallow pops) added perfect casual country as well as a contrasting color that fit in without overtaking the rest going on, the ceramic pie stands and glass jars all worked together to give the whole table a subtle dressed up but still dressed down, easy casualness feel. I thought it worked well.

For the candy I went ol'fashioned, using locally made taffy, butterscotch hard candies, cherry slices, mints that looked like little baseballs, pixy stix, cherry swizzle sticks, and various lollipops. We had a baseball activity so I tied that element in with little baseball lollipops the kids loved, as well as with the mints.

I hung a banner I made quite simply using these pretty tags I found by Martha Stewart at Michael's and some silver glittered letters, and hung the banner over the whole table that read "enjoy a slice!" The banner not only helps to focus the eye, but ties in the theme and adds nice height. I knew I wouldn't be able to add poms and didn't have time to do a balloon setup, so the banner achieved this element quite easily (and cheaply!)

The candied marshmallows made this party once again. I'm telling you -- so easy to make, so colorful and the kids just love them. This time knowing I had a lot of reds going on, I went with blue candy melts and blue crystal candy. The sunlight hit the crystals, making them sparkle which was a lovely (albeit unintended!) touch.

To help draw out the ingredients of the pies and add yet more color (and offer a healthier treat!) I added 1/2 pints of fresh raspberries all over the table. The turquoise color of the containers worked perfectly into the color theme as well. And guests got to take a container home to enjoy on the road back!

 The cupcakes I did were red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Some I dotted with a perfect pecan (classic) and others I used candy pearls to play off the theme of the polka dot paper I knew I'd be using. Each cupcake sat in a double-lined red and white polka dotted paper cup which sat in turn atop little white doily papers. Again, the contrast of the colors plus the sweetness of the doilies brought home the vintage vibe I was looking to achieve here. Plus, the doilies matched the banner element, bringing the whole table together nicely.


 Finally, what baseball game is complete without roasted salted peanuts?! I took simple white paper bags and filled them with peanuts, then tied them with pretty ribbon and sweet tag. All the bags were then placed in apple barrels adorned with red and white checkered ribbon.

The food table included classic American BBQ (pulled pork, brisket), cole slaw, etc. as well as my homemade BBQ sauce (recipe in the cookbook!). And homemade buttermilk biscuits.

The party was fast and complicated as I had to take care of the kiddos as well (and baby during naptime) so couldn't take a lot of pictures of all the elements. But these will do to help give you at least an idea and starting point to go from. Hope you like!