Spicy Seafood Chowder

•2010.08.01 • Leave a Comment

I know we’re approaching the dog days of the summer and one should be leaning away from hot soups, but I’ve been craving this chowder recipe for quite a while. To say that its good is an understatement. Its one of the few recipes I’ve made for others. Everyone lived so that should tell you something.

I haven’t made this since winter. That’s not because of the temperatures, although a rare day with highs below the nineties certainly helps.  Its because the price of scallops has been rather unreasonable… and no weekly specials.

Anyway, yesterday I took the what-the-hell attitude, bought the scallops and cooked this bad boy.

The original recipe comes from the September 2004 issue of Bon Appétit and was entitled Ann Pachett’s Spicy Seafood Chowder:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2-1/2 cups bottled clam juice
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1/4 cup orzo
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 pound bay scallops, side muscles removed
2 6-ounce cans chopped clams
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-heat. Add onion, celery, and green pepper; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add basil, thyme, oregano, and dried crushed red pepper; sauté 1 minute. Stir in bottled clam juice and tomato sauce; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. (Broth can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat before continuing.)

Meanwhile, cook orzo in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well.

Add shrimp and scallops to broth; simmer until shrimp are just opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Stir in orzo and clams with juices; simmer until clams are just heated through.

Divide chowder among 4 bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

You can take this recipe pretty much as-is. However, I’ve made this often enough that I can offer a few shortcuts on measurements. For celery, one stalk will do. Go with two if you’re a celery fan. For green peppers, use 1/3 of a pepper. For onions, one small one works out fine. The only enhancements I’ll offer is I tend towards a wee bit more crushed red pepper and I break the shrimp in half after cleaning them so they are about the same size as the scallops (it creates an equal balance of scallop and shrimp bits).

As for guidance, I would get everything sliced, diced, etc. beforehand. It will make this go much faster. In this instance I cooked the orzo first, but you can just as well do it while the chowder is in it’s 30 minute cooking stage.

Cooking the shrimp and scollops is purely a visual thing for me. It might work out to three minutes, but I think it tends to be a bit more. I’d guess that from the shrimp and scallops to the clams and orzo is about 10 minutes.

Here’s the final presentation, although I forgot to add the parsley before snapping the picture.  Crusty bread is an absolute must as is a mighty fine beer (Bell’s).

p.s. On the top photo, let me make a couple of disclaimers for those who might treat what’s shown literarily. Pictured are 3, 8 oz. bottles of clam juice  and the recipe only calls for 20 oz. so only use half of the third bottle. I was out of the ~14 oz. cans of petite diced tomatoes and only had the 28 oz. can so I used about a two-thirds.

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Turkish-Style Lamb Pizza

•2010.07.18 • Leave a Comment

Before you turn up your nose at this pizza, let me put an American spin on it and call it a Manwich pizza. Manwich, for those that are far younger than me, is a canned sloppy joe sauce, somewhere below spam and potted meat in the periodic table. Just consider this a meat pizza, which is essentially what it is. In this instance, the meat is lamb (yes, the “Mary had a little…” variety).

I’ve had this Wine Spectator recipe (via Rocky) for a while, but have been unable to prepare it due to the unavailability of ground lamb. I live in Burlington, remember (think Mayberry)? With our recently-started monthly Tour de Food runs (Carrboro Farmer’s Market et al), the lack of lamb is no more. The Carrboro market has a nice gentleman from Three Waters Farm who sells ground lamb by the pound.

Here’s a stripped down version of the recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
8 ounces ground lamb
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground sumac (a pinkish-red spice with a tart, fruity flavor, available in specialty gourmet and health food stores; may substitute finely grated lemon zest)
1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Yogurt, for drizzling over finished pizzas (optional)

1. In a skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are golden and fragrant, then stir in the lamb, breaking it up with a wooden spoon so that it cooks evenly. Cook until it begins to brown at the edges, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes, until the tomato paste is a deep rust color, then add the sumac, mint and parsley. Stir to combine, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

2. Lightly flour the dough and your hands, and on a lightly floured work surface, flatten one of the dough balls into a disk. Roll out to an evenly thick, 9-inch circle, using a rolling pin.

3. Transfer circle to a pizza peel or an inverted baking sheet dusted with cornmeal (this will help the dough slide easily onto the stone). Top the circle with about 1/3 of the lamb mixture, distributing it evenly over the surface. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of dough and bake in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes, until the crust is puffy and lightly charred. Slice and serve, drizzled with yogurt if desired.

It’s stripped down because I removed the bits dealing with making your own crust. One of these day’s I’ll cross that bridge, but for now I stick with the trusted Boboli.

Other subs include lemon zest for sumac (sumac in NC is known as poison ivy) and  goat cheese for yogurt.

As for cooking the lamb, I have the temperature set at medium and it takes somewhere between 10-15 minutes. When it comes to adding the tomato paste, skip the measurement and go with half the can.

The above picture, blown out as it is, is not too far from finished. I assume that’s the “deep rust color” stated in the recipe. Turning towards the pizza, be sure to lightly coat the crust with extra-virgin olive oil before spreading the lamb.

In my version I add the goat cheese before the pizza goes into oven. You can do it either before or after, because it will melt in the end.  You’ll also notice that if you compare the above photo to the one on the Wine Spectator site, they look complete different. Is that because I did something wrong? No. The one on the Wine Spectator site is nothing more than a stock photo of a pizza (but not this pizza). How lame.

Cooking time is around 12 minutes, but your mileage (oven) may vary.

It will be spicy, but that’s what makes it so good. You’re not going to sweat or get that tingle on the top of your head, but you’ll know this ain’t no plain hamburger pizza.

Asparagus Pizza

•2010.07.04 • Leave a Comment

If I showed you a picture of the ingredients (sans pizza crust) and hadn’t given away the recipe in the title, would have guessed this was the makings of one awesome pizza?

There is no tomato sauce. There is no meat (sorry, Suzie).  It basically two cheeses, two veggies and some seasoning. The original recipe comes via the forever fabulous Smitten Kitchen and is as follows:

1 recipe Really Simple Pizza Dough or your favorite pizza dough
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes, or about 500 in most cases. If you use a pizza stone, have it in there.

Prepare asparagus: No need to snap off ends; they can be your “handles” as you peel the asparagus. Holding a single asparagus spear by its tough end, lay it flat on a cutting board and using a vegetable peeler (a Y-shaped peeler works best here, but I only had a standard, old and pretty dull peeler and it still worked; a mandolin would also work, in theory, but I found it more difficult to do it that way), create long shavings of asparagus by drawing the peeler from the base to the top of the stalk. Repeat with remaining stalks and don’t fret some pieces are unevenly thick (such as the end of the stalk, which might be too thin to peel); the mixed textures give a great character to the pizza. Discard tough ends. Toss peelings with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and be sure to try one — I bet you can hardly believe how good raw asparagus can taste.

Assemble and bake pizza: Roll or stretch out your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Either transfer to a floured or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a pizza stone in the oven) or to a floured or cornmeal-dusted tray to bake it on. Sprinkle pizza dough with Parmesan, then mozzarella. Pile asparagus on top. Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges are browned, the cheese is bubbly and the asparagus might be lightly charred. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions, then slice and eat.

I’m going to simply this greatly by two moves. First, I use a Boboli crust instead of baking my own. I went with the original crust, but a thin crust would work as well. Second, screw that shaving business. For one, I don’t have any of those utensils. For another, I can envision shaved skin mixed in with shaved asparagus and frankly that’s none too appetizing.

So what’s the alternative to shaving? I’ll tell you in a second, but first how to prep the asparagus. Besides washing it, you need to break off the blunt ends. Why? Because they are tough and tough is not tasty. Grab the blunt end in one hand and the remaining portion in the other hand (about half way). Bend and it should break where it needs to.

Fresh asparagus will easily break with a nice snap. If it doesn’t and just continues to bend, then you’ve got yourself some aging asparagus. You should end up with a stack of spears similar to this (the pile on the right):

So what’s my alternative to shaving? I cut it into 1/4 inch long pieces. I take all the prepped spears, line them up parallel with each other and start chopping off 1/4 inch pieces.  Its quick work and involves no band-aids or stitches.

Returning to the recipe, coat the asparagus with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and one addition offered by SK (but omitted from the above) — a dash or two of red pepper flakes.

You could eat this as-is and be a happy camper. The taste is amazing.

I make one more substitution. Instead of a scallion, I use a small red onion. First, the color is a nice contrast to asparagus. Second, the first time I made this pizza I was out of scallions and only had a red onion. Third, I liked the result of the substitution and have stuck with it.

Before I continue, a note on cheeses. I used REAL cheeses for this recipe. The Parmesan is shaved from a wedge and not that nasty shit that comes in the green can. It was purchased from HT in the high dollar cheese section (labeled Parmesan Reggiano). The Mozzarella was from the cheese ladies at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. If you go back to the first photo you’ll see that its a ball of cheese and comes packaged in liquid. It is not a block shrink wrapped in plastic nor is it pre-shredded in a plastic package. You can also purchase Mozzarella such as this at HT. It comes in plastic containers and is also found in the high dollar cheese section. Substitute if you like, but the taste will not be the same (and I will give you all sorts for grief for doing so).

As for assembly, I coated the crust with a light amount of extra-virgin olive oil (always do) before applying the ingredients. Parmesan first, then the Mozzarella (I break it off instead of chopping it). Asparagus next, followed by the onions. I cook my pizzas at 425º on a pizza stone and this one takes about 12 to 15 minutes.

The finished pie. Goes really well with the Two Buck Chuck Shiraz from Trader Joe’s.

Penne and Tuna Salad

•2010.06.19 • Leave a Comment

If you’re looking for a really simple pasta recipe, this would be it.

Rocky gets the credit and the blame for sharing this (from Cooking Light). Credit because its really, really tasty. Blame because I’m making it way too often for my own good.

Here’s the original:

1 large red bell pepper
4 quarts water
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
6 ounces uncooked penne pasta
2 cups coarsely chopped arugula
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (7.8-ounce) jar premium tuna packed in oil, drained and flaked

1. Preheat broiler.

2. Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 15 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and chop.

3. Bring 4 quarts water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting additional salt and fat. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.

4. Combine bell pepper, pasta, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, arugula, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss well.

I simply this even further by purchasing the roasted red peppers. HT sells 3 to 4 peppers to a jar for about four dollars (often on sale for less). Doing so reduces the preparation time to nothing more than the pasta cooking time.

For the arugula I grab two handfuls from the package and for the shallot I chop up one small shallot, so forget the measurement steps.

Premium tuna? There are two options for tuna packed in oil in HT. One with garlic (no) and one without (yes). The can is 5 oz., a result of the 2008 package downsizing, but it will suffice. Skip the draining. You’ll not drain enough oil away to matter.

If you want to be quick with this, start the water for the pasta first.  Once it’s going, assemble the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. By the time the pasta is done, everything else should be set to go and you should have cleaned up everything but the pasta pot and the stainer.

Dump the pasta into the large bowl, give it a few stirs and then serve.

Realistically, the recipe delivers a serving size of two, but for me it never makes it past a serving size of one. Its that good.

Calibasita

•2010.06.13 • Leave a Comment

Calibasita. I can’t pronounce it so you are excused if you’re having trouble. I think Julie takes pleasure in passing on recipes that contain unpronounceable words. English major. B.

No matter.  This is a killer side dish that can also serve as a filling for omelets (yummy) or as a meal unto itself (there will not be leftovers). Here’s the original recipe from Woman’s Day (c/o Julie Grrl):

Ingredients:

4 small zucchini, diced
2 tsp kosher salt
2 T bsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 ears corn, kernels sliced off
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, diced
1⁄2 cup shredded mozzarella or feta (optional)

Preparation:

1. Place diced zucchini in a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle with salt; toss and let stand 20 minutes. (This draws the excess liquid out of the zucchini.)

2. Transfer zucchini to a kitchen towel and pat dry. (This step is optional but worth the time: Drying zucchini prior to sautéing it keeps it from becoming watery, and I think this step removes its occasional bitterness.)

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 to 5 minutes until soft. Do not brown.

4. Add zucchini and corn kernels. Saute 6 to 7 minutes until vegetables are almost tender.

5. Add diced tomato; sauté 2 to 3 minutes until softened and zucchini is tender. Remove from heat and stir in cheese if desired.

No mods on my end, but a few recommendations. First, choose small zucchinis. If none are available omit one or more. I quarter the zuchinis lengthwise then cube them from there.

Second, only use fresh corn because it contributes the most flavor to the dish. Canned corn just isn’t going to cut it.  White corn is preferable to yellow (but isn’t it always?).

Third, make sure you pat the zucchini dry.  As pictured, I dump mine out on paper towels and then pat them dry.  No need to wash off the salt.

Fourth, choose firm Roma tomatoes. You want the Romas to hold up while cooking and that’s not going to happen if they’re over ripe.

Fifth, I use little over half of a package of Feta crumbles. Feel free to use more, but that seems to be the appropriate portion for my taste buds. I’ve never tried Mozzarella, but if you go down that path use the real stuff that comes in brine (the little white balls). Its better tasting than the block or shredded versions.

Serve immediately, but I must confess that the rare times I’ve had leftovers I’ve taken it from the refrigerator and eaten it cold.

Three Nights of the Cradle

•2010.05.09 • Leave a Comment

Motivation is lacking, but I need to get these little snippets done before the memories are overwritten with new experiences.  Therefore, I’m going to cheat a wee bit and combine three posts into one.

April 30, 2010: Kaki King and the An Horse she rode in on…

First show in more than a month and it was a memorable one. An Horse from Australia opened. Kate on guitar, Damon on drums. I’d say about a ten song set that brought to mind the sound of the Vivian Girls. Solid tunes. Pictures here.

Kaki King was simply superb. I’m guessing about 18 songs, a solo here-n-there and a guest appearance by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Her guitar play is awesome, with no slack at all from drummer Jordan Perlson and multi-instrumentalist Dan Bantigan. The only disappointment this show offered was that it had to end. Pictures here.

May 1, 2010: From the Shore…

Beach House has been popping up everywhere of late due to the strength of their latest, Teen Dream. Its definitely a record you should have in your collection. As for the show, it was good but not great. Even with a sold out crowd, it lacked the energy of the prior night with Kaki King. Maybe it was me, but I had the feeling that they were going through the motions.  It happens.

Pictures here. Apologies for the limited number of images, but my position was not optimal for the stage arrangement and the lighting was dim to outright dark. No light, no data, no images.

May 5, 2010: A Wolf Turns Over a New Leaf

I earlier mentioned “going through the motions”.  The first time I saw Sea Wolf, that was the impression I left with. There was no spark. No energy. That was absolutely not the case on this night. This was a solid performance, from Alex’s opening solo of Orion & Dog to the closer of The Promise. Even though I wasn’t overly fond of Sea Wolf‘s latest release, in this setting the band breathed new life into those tracks and I’ve found myself revisiting them with a new appreciation.  Set list here and pictures here.

A moment if I may… I’m not a big collector of set lists, but I do like a record of what was played.  The band was clearing the stage and I saw someone grab one list so I grabbed the one of the others. I had it sitting with my beer and my camera and had not pocketed it as yet. I was tinkering with my iPhone when a guy walks up craning his neck all over the stage in search of what I guessed to be a set list. I was only half-way paying attention to him when he grabs the set list from my stash and walks off.

Was I pissed?  You bet. I went after him and got it back. He offered up the excuse of “I didn’t know, man”. Right. Asshole.

What’s ironic here is that if he had asked me for the list, I would have let him have it. All I wanted was a picture of it (which someone kindly granted me for TAL). Oh, well.

The Album Leaf.  One of my favorite artists. This is music I can listen to in any mood.  Its like Roxy Music’s Avalon. It works for everything. This night was a 17 song set that covered a lot a ground from their most recent releases Into the Blue Again and A Chorus of Storytellers. I always worry how well a electronic-oriented band will carry over on a live stage, but their was no such worry on this night. Energy and movement abounded.

If there was any disappointment on the night it was a smallish crowd. Granted, it was finals week, but for those of you who stayed away you should regret it. Set list here and pictures here.

Exit Stencil

•2010.05.08 • Leave a Comment

You can have the major labels.  What they spit out is mostly make-believe stars and recycled garbage. I’ll go with the little guys. They’re the ones delivering the tunes that get my stamp of approval.

Take Exit Stencil Recordings out of Cleveland.  They have a nice line up of bands from the Dreadful Yawns to Hot Cha Cha to the Mystery of Two.  On the latter, they just released a four song cassette tape of all things. What made this interesting — not that a cassette tape is isn’t interesting on its own; eight track next? — but it came with four crayons so you could color the insert yourself.

The package also included a code for a digital download (blurred in the above) for the same four songs (which is good considering my cassette decks died years ago), some stickers and a post card with yet another code for a mix tape. Not bad for six bucks. When’s the last time a major label delivered something like this at this price?

Now if I the guys at Exit Stencil could just deliver a Mystery of Two show to Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I’d be just peachy.