January 29, 2012

if shrimp and lobster had a love child

Have you heard of Argentinian red shrimp? Well now you have, and you're welcome. Argentinian red shrimp taste like shrimp and lobster got together, had a love child, and the result was like shrimp, but a little sweet and buttery, like lobster. Shobster? Anyway, it's delicious, and you can find it at your local Trader Joe's if you're lucky enough to have one nearby. Jason rolls his eyes at my obsession - let's call it a love affair - with Trader Joe's, but I'm not ashamed.

Let me back up. A few years ago, our friends Ian and Courtney lived in Springfield for a year. Courtney is one of those natural cooks. Everything she makes is delicious and I always end up asking for the recipe. We have similar food brains, I think, and tend towards the same types of dishes. She shares my love of Ina Garten, for one thing. We cooked a lot together during that year; I miss those dinners.

One of the dishes that Courtney taught me to make was a Greek-style bake of shrimp and potatoes covered with tomatoes, oregano, lemon, and feta. It was one of those enlightening dishes that I came to crave often. It's kind of unexpected. It's nice to have those in your back pocket.

I had sort of forgotten about the dish until recently, but the recipe didn't make it to California. So I made it from memory and I think Courtney would have approved. The dish is hearty, but really fresh and bright from all the lemon. It's a year-round sort of dish, I think. But then again, I'm now living in the land of eternal Spring and Fall {we went for a run on the beach today, in January, not to rub it in or anything}.

Greek shrimp & potatoes
serves four
4 medium sized yukon gold potatoes
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 T olive oil
1 1/2 lemon, juiced
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices and layer into the bottom of a 9x12 inch baking dish. Cover the potatoes with water and bake for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water and re-arrange the potatoes back into a single layer. Set aside.

While the potatoes are baking, combine the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic in a small bowl and whisk together to combine. Reserve half of the olive oil mixture and add the other half to the thawed, peeled, shrimp. Mix gently to cover the shrimp with the marinade and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Pour the remaining half of the olive oil mixture/marinade over the baked potatoes. Add the tomatoes, shrimp, and feta (in that order) evenly. Bake for 15 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the dish from the oven, cool for five minutes and serve.

January 22, 2012

mother-in-law cookies

In relationships, each person usually brings something to the table that enhances the life of the other. A few years ago, I discovered one of Jason's contributions to my life: his mom's oatmeal cookies. I've never been particularly excited about oatmeal cookies in the past, and they're still not what I would pick if given the choice between almost any other cookie. But my mother-in-law's oatmeal cookies? Now that, my friends, is a different story. Janie's cookies are the sort that you cannot stop eating once you start, no matter how hard you try. Jason once described them as little bowls of oatmeal, except they're way better than that.

My mother-in-law and I are different in many ways, and cooking is no exception. I love her dearly. Where I am a kale and saffron risotto kind of girl, Janie is a pot roast and cream of mushroom sort of lady. She makes an amazing pot roast, by the way, that is always always accompanied by mashed potatoes, sweet cinnamon-y carrots, and green beans. Every time. 

I finally got my hands on the oatmeal cookie recipe recently and we attempted to re-create them. I don't know if it's the California climate or the fact that I just can't bring myself to use Crisco, I'm sorry, but I can't do it - but our first batch of cookies was nowhere near as good as Janie's. However, after we chilled the dough while we gave each other pep talks to try again, the second batch was so close! We ate at least 15 cookies in two days! Even though, as my husband lovingly pointed out, his mom doesn't chill her dough.

mother-in-law cookies (aka oatmeal cookies)
makes about 3 dozen small cookies. it's important not to over-bake these, which was one of our mistakes with the first batch. they are mean to be soft, not crispy. the good amount of salt gives lots of flavor.

1 cup raisins
3/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening (like Spectrum brand)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups quick-cooking oats

Place the raisins in a small bowl, cover them with water to soak, and set aside.

Beat together the shortening and sugars in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg, water, and vanilla. In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the oats. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Drain the raisins and stir into the cookie dough. Chill for at least two hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet or one lined with a baking mat. Bake for 11 minutes; do not over bake. The cookies should be just lightly golden and they will continue cooking on the pan as they cool.

January 15, 2012

a lesson in detox

Last year, I told you about the two week cleanse I did that felt amazing and helped me to understand how my body interacts with certain foods. If you've never done a cleanse, I highly recommend it. I'm a firm believer in the body's ability to heal itself. In order for it to do what it's supposed to do, it's important to take a temporary break from all the foods that can cause harm and irritation. It's like giving your body a vacation at the beach. It will thank you later.

After eating about twice my body weight in food when I was home for ten days in Missouri over Christmas, I was craving a little detox. The program I followed last year is called Clean, and it's a great plan - but it's very regimented and can be tough to pull off, especially if you live with someone who's not so keen on the idea of pureed raw squash "soup" for dinner. What I learned from that experience is you have to make it work for you. And doing a little bit of good for yourself is better than no good at all. I find now that if I can do little mini-cleanses (3-5 days) several times a year, not only can I shed a few pounds if I need to, but I can actually pull it off and do something nice for my insides.

This time around, I picked up a copy of the January edition of Whole Living Magazine focusing on detox. Their plan was really similar to Clean (no dairy, wheat, nightshade plants, alcohol - all the allergen-inducing foods), but it's a bit more realistic. I took advantage of Jason going out of town to do a 5 day mini-cleanse. It was totally do-able and it was the reset I needed after all the holiday excess.

This is the general idea:
- Clean smoothie for breakfast (example: 1/3 cup mango, 1/3 cup pineapple, coconut water) + green or herbal tea
- Kale slaw for lunch
- Spiced butternut squash soup for dinner
- Snacks throughout the day, like dried mango, apples, and avocados.

I discovered some new recipes in the process that I could eat anytime, not just when I'm trying to be super healthy. Who knew raw kale slaw could be so delicious? I sliced it thinly and mixed it with red cabbage and a bunch of other herbs, and doused it in a vinaigrette. I used chopped roasted almonds instead of the seeds. 

My favorite new recipe is spiced butternut squash soup. In the winter, I need something warm for dinner, but the fact that it's blended still gives your digestive tract a break while you sleep. It's super easy to make (especially if you own an immersion blender), thick, spicy, and very comforting.

spiced butternut squash soup 
adapted from a recipe by Whole Living Magazine; makes about 6 servings
This soup is seriously good, and it has a secret ingredient: apple. You'll need either an immersion blender (much easier option) or a blender to puree all the veggies at the end. 

2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, grated or minced
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
pinch of ground cloves
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped
1 whole medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
3-4 cups of water
salt + pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat; add the onion and garlic and cook until tender (6-8 minutes). Add the fresh ginger and all the spices and cook for about 1 minute. Add all the veggies, water, salt, and pepper. Cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and then carefully use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you don't have a hand-held blender, a traditional one will do; just blend the soup in batches and return it to the pot.

January 8, 2012

if it's the beaches

Although we may make resolutions for the new year, most of us don't keep them. We mean well, but we're creatures of habit and change is hard. I like to think about setting intentions for the year. I guess that's what resolutions really are - intentions. My intentions for this year? Some of them are important and serious, some of them not (growing my hair out -  I have serious hair envy from this 2010 pic). The author of a blog I read often, nat the fat rat, said that all she wants is for her life to be beautiful. What an amazingly simple concept. If we all lived with that in mind - to be always looking for ways to create beauty in our lives - our world would probably be a much more peaceful place. I'm going to try to live more beautifully this year.

Luckily, we now live in a place with physical, tangible beauty that I can see everyday when I walk outside. My brother Josh said the other day that we underestimate the impact of the aesthetics of our everyday surroundings. It's something he notices when he goes home to Missouri. I've been listening to a song by the Avett Brothers that always makes me think of what Jason and I did, or what he did for me. It speaks to the bittersweet and brave act of leaving the familiar, seeking out more. He's a pretty wonderful man, that husband of mine.

If it's the beaches
If it's the beaches' sands you want
Then you will have them
If it's the mountains' bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it's the wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Pack the old love letters up
We will read them when
we forget why we left here

By the way, did you know he's famous now? We recently became the proud owners of a 1962 Corvair Greenbrier that came with stories and pictures of its original owners who, like us, were young and in search of adventure. We feel a kinship with our new-old car. You can read Jason's car blog and the recent mention of our project on the popular car site Bring a Trailer.

January 1, 2012

two-thousand-twelve, show us whatcha got.

My New Year's Eve looked a little like this:

{that's my brother and I having a dance party in our jammy-jams}

We had ourselves a rip-roarin' New Year's Eve. We ate a delicous brisket-in-red-wine prepared by my seeester-in-law Vanessa, the appetizers I made were pretty tasty, the drinks I made were even tastier, and we wrote down "ten to forty resolutions" at the request of Vanessa, on the back of a postcard, that will be mailed to me later. Unfortunately Jason was still in Springfield so he couldn't be there and we missed him a whole lot. We all had a hard time staying awake till midnight, decided to get our pajamas on to wait for its arrival, and then when midnight struck, I didn't even notice until people started calling me. You see, we're getting older. We get sleepy early and forget things easily. It was a super fun evening.

But to get serious for a minute, 2011 was a thrillingly wonderful, tough, amazing little year. In summary we:
- finished remodeling our house and sold it in three days.
- almost moved to Seattle for Jason to go to grad school but then decided not to.
- went to Ireland for an incredible wedding, and then to Paris, where I fell back in love with my favorite city.
- packed up all our things, quit our jobs, threw caution to the wind, and made all my dreams come true by moving to San Francisco. We arrived officially on July 23.
- by some kind of miracle, I found a kick-ass job and was hired before we even moved.
- met some really wonderful new friends. Just when you think you've made all the close friends you're ever going to make, surprise! you make more friends.
- discovered the TV show 'Damages' and are now officially addicted.

2011, you rocked my world. Moving was really hard (and expensive, lordy!) but so incredibly worth every single penny and all the stress and exhaustion and emotions that we paid to make it happen. 2012, show us whatcha got. If it's even half as exciting and life-changing as 2011, it's going to be a good year.

To celebrate this first day, I plan to sit on my couch watching the second season of Damages and eat Adronico's chocolate chip cookies for dinner.

Happy 2012!