Friday, June 26, 2015

Southwest Grilled Shrimp Salad

Last Year's Post:  Chicken with Fresh Cherry Salsa
Two Years Ago:   Farro, Kale and Smoked Mozzarella Salad

I found a bag of seriously gigantic frozen shrimp at Costco the other day and have been amusing myself with finding recipes worthy of their magnificence ever since. This particular recipe is a study in contrasting colors, textures, and flavors that shows off the beautiful grilled shrimp while simultaneously being very light and healthy - a perfect summer meal.

You can vary the heat level by the type of spice blend you choose and also by whether you add the spice to the corn and zucchini in addition to the shrimp.  Living in Arizona, I have a jar of hatch chile spice blend that's pretty potent so I went easy on the corn and zucchini but a little bit heavier on the shrimp.

I could just eat everything on this plate and call it a meal, couldn't you?

If you really like heat, you could always add some sliced jalapenos to the salad as well.  The sweetness of the corn and creaminess of the avocado are a good balance for the heat.

All you do is make a light lime-cumin dressing, quickly grill the veggies and shrimp, then toss everything together.  Easy, quick, healthy and delicious.

printable recipe
Southwest Grilled Shrimp Salad
Serves 4

1 ear corn, husked
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise
10 colossal or 14 extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Southwest seasoning blend
1 small head of butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized bits
1 avocado
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all dressing ingredients by whisking in a small bowl or shaking in a jar; set aside. 

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill.  Brush the corn, zucchini and shrimp with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Season with southwest seasoning to taste.  Grill the corn and zucchini for 2 minutes on all sides until grill-marked and crisp-tender.  Grill the shrimp until the meat is opaque and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Let cool slightly.

Cut the corn kernels from the cob, and chop the zucchini into ½” pieces.  Chop the shrimp into bite-sized pieces, discarding the tails.

Halve and pit the avocado, then score each half with a small knife into a cross-hatch pattern.  Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into a small bowl and toss with the lemon juice to prevent browning.  (It should be in chunks.)

Place the lettuce in a large serving bowl or individual salad bowls.  Top with corn, zucchini, tomatoes, avocado, and shrimp.  Drizzle with dressing and toss before serving.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Last Year's Post:  Breakfast Sandwiches with Canadian Bacon, Chipotle Cheddar and Guacamole
Two Years Ago:   Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca

I love a good sandwich so much that I've decided to occasionally post great sandwiches from around the world such as Italian tuna sandwichbanh mipan bagnat, and chicken gyros.  The Muffuletta is arguably one of the most famous sandwiches in the United States, originating with Italian immigrants in New Orleans. The term "muffuletta" refers both to the round loaf of bread, and to the sandwich itself.  And what a sandwich - a signature olive relish plus thick layers of provolone, mortadella and hot soppressata, all pressed together to make a cohesive whole.  When you bite into a wedge (the biggest challenge is actually getting your mouth around it) you get tastes of creamy cheese, hot sausage, salty olives, crunchy veggies and olive oil that has soaked into the bread, keeping it moist and delicious.

This is an indulgent sandwich.  As a matter of fact, I felt guilty enough the day I made it that I spent extra time on the treadmill and then tried to eat very slowly and mindfully, savoring what I knew was going to be an infrequent treat prefaced and followed by days of salads.  (Doesn't mindful eating counteract at least some of the calories?  Sort of like drinking Diet Coke with pizza, one of my favorite irrational rationalizations.)

You could, of course, cut down on the meats, cheese and olive oil, and serve the sandwich on thin-sliced bread  if you wanted an approximation of the tastes with less guilt.  But I wanted to try the real deal.  The sacrifices I make in the name of culinary curiosity.

First is the bread:  a round, slightly flatted loaf of soft Italian white bread with a slightly crisp crust, typically with sesame seeds on top.  I couldn't find the exact right loaf but found a very close approximation at my grocery store that was labeled "sheepherder bread".  Why they are making sheepherder bread for mass consumption is another question for which I have no answer, but it worked - the only thing missing was the sesame seeds.  Basically any 6-8" round white loaf will work, as long as it doesn't have a really hard crust.

Next is the olive relish.  First you briefly cook cauliflower, carrots and celery in olive oil and spices, then you combine that mixture with green and black olives, pepperoncini, and pimentos.  My suggestion is to head to your local salad bar because you need relatively small amounts of the cauliflower, carrots and celery, plus every store has an olive bar these days.

Next up is the filling:  provolone cheese (easy to find), mortadella (sort of like Italian bologna, harder to find in a grocery store but still possible), and hot soppressatta (a hot salami, difficult to find - I finally found some at my local Italian market).  If you're either the type of person who either a) enjoys these culinary treasure hunts, or b) wants to try an authentic version of the recipe, it's worth the effort.  Otherwise, you could substitute other Italian meats such as bologna and hot salami from the deli case.

The final part is assembly and squishing (yes, squishing).  The olive relish goes on both cut and hollowed-out bread halves to make sure the dressing soaks into the top and bottom of the sandwich.  (This is important but slightly problematic as you'll see in a minute.)   The cheese and meats are layered on the bottom half, then you're supposed to "carefully" place the top on the bottom.  With a million little olive relish pieces falling out all over.  Right.  My solution was to place one layer of soppressata on the top half and the rest on the bottom half, so the olive relish on the top was at least covered.  Then you quickly flip the top over onto the bottom half.  This takes commitment and, once started, there's no going back.  But it did work.

And now for the squishing - wrap the whole loaf tightly in plastic wrap and weigh it down with a cast iron skillet (or just gently press down on it occasionally) for at least an hour or up to overnight.  The recipe doesn't specify to refrigerate it at this point, and I would assume that leaving it out for an hour or two would be perfectly fine, but for any time longer than that I would refrigerate it.  The squishing and standing time  allows the sandwich to become a cohesive whole which will cut beautifully as you can see by the picture.  So, make the sandwich in the morning and you have the perfect take-along loaf for you and three friends for your next concert in the park.   Just make sure you work out first.

Serves 4

Note:  this recipe requires at least an hour of standing time after assembly so plan ahead.

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ medium carrot, thinly sliced
½ rib celery, thinly sliced
½ cup finely chopped cauliflower
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted green olives, finely chopped
¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
5 pepperoncini, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 jarred pimento peppers, finely chopped
6-8” round Italian loaf with sesame seeds, split horizontally and hollowed out
4 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
5 ounces thinly sliced mortadella
5 ounces thinly sliced hot soppressata

Prepare the relish:  Combine the olive oil, carrot, celery, cauliflower, oregano, chile flakes and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer until the vegetables are not quite tender, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and add the vinegar, olives, pepperoncini and pimento peppers.  Stir to combine.

To assemble the sandwich, divide the olive relish between the top and bottom half of the bread, including liquids.  Layer the provolone, mortadella and hot soppressata on the bottom half, making sure none of the meat or cheese extends over the sides of the bread.  Place the last few pieces of meat on the top half of the bread to cover the olive relish,  then quickly and decisively turn the top half over onto the bottom half, replacing any stray relish pieces than may have fallen out.  Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, then weight it down with a cast iron skillet or gently press on the top of the sandwich occasionally with your hands.  Let stand for at least an hour or up to overnight, refrigerating after an hour.

Cut into four wedges to serve.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Farro and Kale Salad

Last Year's Post:  Grilled Lobster Cobb Salad
Two Years Ago:   Lemon Polenta Cake

This salad works because of the balance of flavors and textures:  chewy farro, slightly bitter kale, sweet cherries, cool cucumber, toasty walnuts, and creamy goat cheese.  Farro is a perfect choice for a vegetarian meal because it's a great source of both fiber and protein so it's satisfying and filling. (Of course you could always add cooked chicken or turkey if you really want to.)  The kale adds nutritional benefits and, because you're using the slightly more delicate Tuscan kale rather than the sturdier curly kale, it doesn't even need to be blanched before adding to the salad.

The farro needs to be cooked and cooled before adding the other ingredients, so be sure to start an hour or so ahead of eating, or cook the farro the day prior and refrigerate.  Then it's a matter of simple, fast chopping and assembly so it makes a great and healthy weeknight meal.

If you're not familiar with farro, it's a rustic Italian grain with a nutty flavor and chewy texture.  You can generally find it at health food stores in a package like this, or the bulk aisle of your grocery store.

This particular brand is pearled, which means some of the bran has been removed so it will cook faster.  Although brands will vary in cooking time, this one only requires fifteen minutes of simmering.  Check your package when you make the recipe. Toasting the farro in olive oil prior to cooking enhances the nutty, toasty flavor.

I decided to partially peel the cucumber in stripes for fun, but you can choose to peel or not.  The kale gets washed, stemmed and shredded (or finely chopped) before adding to the salad.

Add in the cherries, veggies, walnuts and goat cheese, and you're good to go.

printable recipe
Farro and Kale Salad
Serves 4

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, diced
1 cup farro, rinsed
2 sprigs fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Juice of 1 lemon, divided
Juice of ½ orange
5-6 steams Tuscan kale, stemmed and finely chopped
½ cup dried cherries or 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/3 English cucumber, partially peeled, seeds removed and chopped
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the shallot and cook, stirring often, until the shallots have softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the farro and toast in the olive oil, stirring often, for about 4 minutes.  Stir in two cups of water, the oregano and ½ teaspoon salt.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and cook according to farro package directions, usually about 15 minutes.  Taste after 15 minutes – the farro should be tender but still chewy.  Remove the oregano sprigs and drain the farro. 

In a large bowl, whisk together half the lemon juice, the orange juice, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and remaining ½ teaspoon salt.  Add the warm farro and toss to coat.  Let cool. (May be refrigerated at this point.)

When the farro has cooled, add the remaining lemon juice, kale, cherries, cucumber and walnuts and toss to combine.  Crumble in the goat cheese, toss gently just to mix, and serve.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mini Shrimp Tacos

Last Year's Post:  Chicken Gaston Gerard
Two Years Ago:   Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Dipping Sauce

I have a strange fascination with miniature or finger-food versions of larger foods and have posted a few in the past such as tiny pizzassausage sliders with broccoli rabe pestoraspberry dark chocolate wonton cupskorean slidersgoat cheese and chorizo rolls, and chocolate honey almond tartlets.  I love them because they're easy to eat, cute, and perfect for parties.

This is another in the series, made incredibly easy by using scoop chips as the base rather than trying to form and bake wonton wrappers. (Medium-ish shrimp will work best to fit the scoops - I used large and felt they might have actually been a little too large.  But they were still really good.) All you have to do is bake or grill the shrimp, combine some diced avocado with lime juice so it doesn't brown, and combine some sour cream with chipotle chiles or any hot sauce you have on hand.  Then just assemble and serve.

This would be a great recipe for a summer grilling party or any Mexican party or just any party at all.  Enjoy!

print recipe
Mini Shrimp Tacos
Makes 24 mini tacos

24 medium-to-large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
Non-stick spray
Your favorite chili powder blend
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 avocado, diced
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon chipotle chiles in adobo, finely minced (or your favorite hot sauce)
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
24 tortilla chip scoops

Preheat oven to 375d (or preheat a grill to medium).

If baking in the oven, spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.  Shake a light coating of chili powder blend on the shrimp and place them on the baking sheet.  Bake for 5-8 minutes until curled and pink.   If grilling the shrimp, place on skewers and lightly coat with the chili powder blend.  Grill 2-3 minutes per side until curled and pink.  Set aside.

Combine the avocado with the lime juice in a small bowl and toss gently to coat (this will prevent browning).  Combine the sour cream with the chipotle chiles or other hot sauce.

To assemble, place a teaspoon of avocado in each scoop, followed by a small amount of sour cream and a cilantro leaf or two.  Top with a shrimp and a sprinkle of lime zest.