Friday, August 19, 2011

More Than Just Polenta & Shrimp

As the storm clouds rolled in, I knew I wanted shrimp for dinner, but wasn't sure exactly how.  I thought of couscous, rice, pasta... all favorites, but I wanted something different.  I remember the package of polenta in the cabinet.  It has sat there for awhile now.  I have never made polenta and always seemed to find away to push it back for more familiar fare.  Not tonight, it was coming out front & center!

I poked around the fridge for ideas.  I grabbed some grape tomatoes, sharp cheddar, scallions, & bacon.  I cleaned the shrimp & stashed the shells in the freezer for future stock.  To clean shrimp, I use a fork.  I run one of the tines up the back and pull it thru the shell.  Then the shell can be easily peeled off.  It should also open up the back to be able to pull the vein out.  If not, just use a paring knife to gently cut into the back to get the vein. I tossed the shrimp in a sprinkling of salt & a generous helping of Valle del Sol Chili Powder (I won a free bottle of Whole Foods 365 spice last month) and set aside.

I started heating up the liquid for polenta.  I was going with a 4:1 ratio (I have since learned that 4:1 makes a polenta that will firm up for slicing and 6:1 will make a looser spoonable polenta).  I started 2.5c water & .5c fat free evaporated milk over med heat.  I added 1c of polenta to 1c of water.  I added s&p to both sets of liquids.

The grape tomatoes went onto a parchment lined baking sheet & drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt & pepper.  They went into a 350F oven to roast.  Then I sliced up half a package of bacon and started that in another pan.  The liquid was boiling by then so I added the water/polenta mixture and kept stirring till it thickened.  I continued cooking it, stirring often, for about 10 minutes on low heat.  I turned off the heat & mixed in a few handfuls of shredded cheddar.  I covered as I finished the rest of the meal.

While the bacon was still cooking, I chopped up about the top 3 thirds of the a bunch of scallions & stirred those into the polenta.  When the bacon finished cooking (I like it super crispy), I just grabbed it with my tongs and popped it right into the pot with the polenta - a little bacon grease can't hurt - and stirred it in & covered the pot.

The easiest and quickest for last.  I heated up the pan with a little olive oil.  In went the shrimp for about 3-4 minutes.  I turned off the heat and let the shrimp finish cooking with the residual heat from the pan.  And by then, the tomatoes were perfectly wrinkles and slightly charred.

A ladle full of beautifully yellow polenta topped with some of the grape tomatoes & shrimp was a perfect combination.  The scallions gave a nice mild onion flavor that went nice with the cheddar.  Of course the bacon was a delicious addition.  The roasted tomatoes gave little bursts of sweetness that balanced the spice of the chili powder on the shrimp.

The rest of the polenta is sitting in a loaf pan in the fridge firming up for slicing tomorrow - griddle cakes topped with roasted veggies!

Ess Eppis!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Urban Gardening & Pizza Making

I have never had much of a green thumb.  I have even successfully killed Lucky Bamboo.  At the end of April I was at the PIFA Street Fair (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts), a Parisian style street fair to wrap up the month long festival.  I have to say, it was great.  They really transformed several blocks of Broad Street into a beautiful, entertaining, and exciting festival that ended with an amazing musical/aerial/acrobatic performance high above the intersection of Broad & Spruce.  As soon as the show ended the huge crowd parted.  I took one more stroll up and down the Avenue of the Arts to savor one of the few times I have actual seen it earn that moniker.  I was checking out the plants as the vendors were packing up.  I asked the ladies packing up the flats of unsold herbs if there was any end of the night special.  I scored 5 plants - basil, lemon thyme, cilantro, rosemary, & chives - for $10!

And here they are today...

They have been thriving sitting in the window of my apartment, soaking of early morning and late day sun.  I attribute their success to the fact that they have almost become like pets to me.  I have named them, talk to them, and groom them.  Please meet, starting in the back row left to right, Tyne Daly the lemon thyme, Trevor the terrarium (not a herb, but a very successful & tall terrarium borne at one of the Art in the Age workshops), Clive the chive, Rose Mary the rosemary, Sully the cilantro, and Basil the basil (yes, pronounced differently).

They have been growing and providing lots of tasty herbs for my kitchen.  Sully is starting to go to seed & in the process producing pretty little white flowers.  Clive grows faster than I can even trim him - some days I swear he grows an inch or two over night.  Tyne is beautiful & fragrant and lemony enough to stand in for lemon zest in some recipes.  Rose Mary is keeps up a nice steady pace.  Basil looks a little thin here because he recently gave up enough basil to put the finishing touch to my pizza.

The other night I wanted pizza, my pizza, but I didn't have any dough.  Normally, the pizza dough I use is left to rise very slowly in the fridge over the course of at least 24-48 hours.  This gives me a very thin, crispy, and tender crust - exactly what I like.  So I did what everyone does in this situation, I took to Google.  I came across this recipe for pizza dough by Mark Bittman and figure - hell it's Mark Bittman's!  I used it as a jumping off point to create this very delicious dinner in only an hour and a half - start to tummy!

I didn't follow all the directions for Mr. Bittman's pizza.  First was simply a mistake, I only added one teaspoon of yeast but it didn't seem to adversely affect the results.  I added about a 1 1/4 cup of hot tap water - hot water because it would activate the yeast quicker.  I also added about a tablespoon or two of a Mediterranean spice mix I have into the flour.  I tossed all the dry ingredients into my food processor and gave them a whirl.  I slowly added the oil & water till it formed into a ball and turned it out onto a floured piece of parchment paper (simply to make clean up easy).  I kneaded it a bit and put it into a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to get the oil all over the surface, covered with plastic wrap and stuck it on top of the stove to rise.

While the dough was rising, I was preheating the oven to 350.  I rinsed off a pint of "cocktail" tomatoes (they were on sale & I had a coupon - grape, cherry, or any other smallish tomato will do), tossed them onto a parchment lined sheet pan, poked them all with a paring knife (so they don't explode), & drizzled with olive oil.  They sat in the oven about 30 minutes and were popped into the beaker that came with my immersion blender.  I gave them a quick 2 second zip with the blender and TA DA SAUCE!  Of course I added s&p.

Then I took a couple of balls of fresh mozzarella to drain off a bit and diced those up.  I don't grate mozzarella because half of it just smears on the grater, it melts easy enough it doesn't need to be grater thin, and good mozzarella will pull off in strips if you try to grate it.  Then Basil joined me in the kitchen to give up a nice handful of his leaves for my dinner.  I just rolled those up and gave it a quick chiffonade (fancy word for cut into ribbons).

By now the spice spike dough has risen for an hour.  I tossed the dough on to a unlined sheet pan & pressed it into the corners giving it a bit of a crust thicker than the bottom.  This was hands down the most easily manipulated pizza dough - usually I have to pull and coax it onto shape.  At this point I think the dough is suppose to rest and puff up a bit before topping & baking, but I was hungry and decided to skip that step.  I poured on the  roasted tomato sauce on and used the back of spoon to spread it around, sprinkled the basil (I wanted it against the sauce and not on to of the mozzarella to keep it from burning), & added topped it all with the diced mozzarella.  The whole thing went in a 350 oven.

Because it was fresh tomatoes lightly roasted & fresh mozzarella, there is a bit more liquid in these ingredients then their long cooked or grocery store counterparts.  I was keeping an eye on the pizza and noticed that it appeared very "wet" for the first 15 minutes.  After another 5 minutes any extra moisture was gone.  I personally prefer when the cheese is browned on top of my pizza so I put the broiler on for the last few minutes of baking.  The pizza came out easily and slid onto my bamboo cutting board to cool a bit... and shortly there after, it was in my tummy!!!!

Ess Eppis!