It doesn’t look like much, but it is totally delicious!
How is your week going? It seems like everyone either has massive winter storms or unusually spring-like weather. We are in the latter, with our afternoons reaching almost 70 degrees! It has been a lovely respite, in a certain sense, but a little unsettling. It is still February, after all. Will we even have a winter season this year?
I’ve been starting to think about my garden plans for this year, because the extended forecast is still staying pretty mild! I think I will be aiming to put a few hearty green seedlings into the ground within the next couple of weeks: swiss chard, kale, etc. Whatever I can get my hands on, knowing that this isn’t actually planting season. Normally Home Depot fills my seedling needs, but I may need to venture to an actual garden center to find seedlings. I also need to check the almanac for the last predicted frost, but I’m feeling pretty confident about planting seeds soon, as well. I’ve always felt like I start my seeds too late, so this mild winter may be the reason that I finally get them out on time! I’m still planning to use square foot gardening, but I am expecting to tweak a little from last year’s garden plan. It was not as successful as my first year, unfortunately. I didn’t really get any onions or carrots last year, and I bought tomato plants that were too big for my box. This year, though, I’ll learn from those mistakes!
I am also dreaming of a patio makeover. And I am determined to make those dreams a reality! Our patio is the one part of our apartment that I’ve also felt was a little neglected, so I’ve been saving up a few dollars here and there for a cheap update! Some actual decor, perhaps a few pillows, maybe some new (cheap) chairs, and a new grill! I will keep you posted on our progress!
This Spring weather also has us see-sawing back and forth between comforting winter meals and lighter Spring ones. Which is why I keep finding my meal plans full of slow-cooked, heavily spiced Indian dishes and soups…or sushi. Haha! On Sunday, I let myself play in creating a big vegetarian, Indian meal. I had wanted to make Paneer cheese again (I’d give myself about an 85% success rate with this batch…insufficient draining, I think) and we had potatoes and cauliflower to make Aloo Gobi, so I rounded things out with a batch of Coconut-Creamed Spinach, which is totally my go-to side dish for any Indian food! I’ve talked before about how I am working to appreciate cooked greens more and this is one of the few cooked greens dishes that I will always enjoy! It is so delicious over a bit of rice, creamy and comforting and full of flavor! Light Indian spices and coconut milk instead of cream give this dish an unexpected twist, without being too overpowering. A healthy dose of garlic and salt, with a little heat, are still required, just like in regular creamed spinach.
- 2 packages frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
- 2 tsp. coconut oil
- salt & pepper
Press the thawed, frozen spinach into a mesh sieve to squeeze as much water as you can from it. Leave to drain as you cook the onion. In a sauté pan over medium heat, as the coconut oil and the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and is mostly translucent. Add the minced garlic and the spices (garam masala, ginger, cumin, and chili flakes) and stir the whole mixture for about 2 minutes, until the garlic and spices are fragrant. Add the drained spinach to the pan and stir to combine with the onion. Pour in about half of the can of coconut milk, stirring until the spinach mixture loosens up and the coconut milk in incorporated into the mix. Add the remaining coconut milk and simmer the mixture until the desired thickness–the milk should hold together everything: the liquid shouldn’t pool from the greens. It should only take a few minutes, at most! Add a hefty pinch of salt and pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed!
Early on in my college career, I saw a lot of my mother. Though I lived on campus, I was only about 30 minutes away from home. My sister had jumped across state lines, so I got the brunt of parental visits as my mother adjusted from having three to just one child at home. (To be honest, I also did my fair share of calling up mom to come visit/take me home for the weekend as well). On one such day trip with my mother, we went to Applebee’s for lunch. Applebee’s was the standard dinner out during my early years, especially when we visited my grandfather in Colorado. For many years, I stubbornly refused to sample anything beyond the chicken fingers and the hot dog that huddled safely on the kids menu, until I was well past the age limit able to access that menu. Faced with the wide, unknown expanse of the regular menu, I chose the only meal that seemed safe: the boneless buffalo wings that my mother nearly always ordered. Just as my childhood restaurant visits were filled with chicken fingers and hot dogs, my early-teenaged years were now ruled by a devotion to hot-sauce-smothered chicken and blue cheese dressing. With my luck, I was choosing dishes that could be found at nearly every restaurant we visited. I think part of the reason for my steadfast devotion to eating the same dish time and again was due to my stomach troubles in my youth (as previously mentioned). The short list of “safe” dishes may have truly been better for my stomach, but honestly, I think I was just less nervous when I ate those, and thus, less likely to decide that I felt “sick” after eating out.
Through high school, I started to slower expand my list of acceptable foods, and, on this particular visit to Applebee’s, I was in the height of my obsession with tomato-basil soup. I had also never been to the restaurant at lunch time. They were advertising a new lunch menu: a “you-pick-two” idea of pairing soup, salad, or sandwiches for lunch. The concept was quickly becoming popular and I felt ever-so grown up as I eschewed my usual choice of sandwich for my favorite soup (tomato-basil) and a salad that I would never have touched just a few years prior: Spinach with Shrimp topped with a “warm bacon vinaigrette”. I am so glad I picked that salad. It was incredible–crisp spinach just beginning to wilt with the heat of the smoky-sweet, tangy vinaigrette with plump, sweet shrimp intermingling with sharp shards of onion and soft bits of roasted red pepper. This was the first salad that seemed to stick in my memory. I had to have it again, and spent the next few months trying to convince my friends to do dinner at Applebee’s whenever we went out off-campus. This was a monumental task, since my new best friend had worked at Applebee’s before coming to college and sworn off the restaurant completely. Finally, once, I managed to get the group to go there for dinner since the restaurant was right beside the movie theater. I was happy to see the salad was still on the menu, and ordered the full portion. I was not disappointed. It was just as good as I remembered. That was the last time I went to Applebee’s.
Nowadays, there isn’t much there that M and I can eat, and, if my friends group is going to any of the run-of-the-mill American restaurants, TGI Fridays’ happy hour specials trump all the rest. But even now, six years later, I occasionally find myself thinking about that salad. And, for a few weeks here, I was on a serious salad kick: unable to not pick up buckets of greens and lettuces in the store and at the farmer’s market. In the last few weeks, I have finally tried collard greens (cooked greens! I liked them!) and dished up several full-sized salads for dinner, including this remake of the memorable Applebee’s salad. Unfortunately, a truly terrible take-away-salad-induced bout of food poisoning has cooled my fervor for salads, at least for the time being. But this Shrimp and Spinach salad might just be the dish that can restore my love and trust in leafy greens. I checked Applebee’s menu and they no longer offer this salad with shrimp, so that is now one more reason to make this at home! I served these full sized salads with garlic bread and called it a night. Quick, easy, and delicious dinner!
On a quick side note, I do use tomato jam in this recipe. E & A made a huge batch at the end of last summer and I have loved finding dishes to add the sweet-and-spicy jam into the mix. This is one of the best so far–if you can get your hands on some tomato jam, it is absolutely worth the purchase. If not, you can leave it out of the vinaigrette. I mention some ideas for substitution in the recipe below.
Shrimp & Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes
For the Salad
- 1 1/2 lbs medium-size, raw, de-veined shrimp (thawed if previously frozen)
- 8-10 c. fresh spinach
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 c. (packed) roasted red peppers, diced
- 4 Tbsp. raw, unsalted almonds
- 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, shredded/grated (optional)
- 4 slices cooked bacon, chopped (drippings reserved)
For the Bacon Vinaigrette
- Reserved bacon drippings (should be about 2-4 Tbsps, depending on the thickness of your bacon. Don’t stress about it)
- 2 Tbsp to 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. tomato jam*
- Ground garlic, optional
- Ground black pepper
*Tomato jam gives sweetness, depth, and a bit of a kick to this dressing. If you cannot get a jar of it, you can substitute an extra tsp of honey, and 1 tsp. of chili flakes to get the basics of the flavor. If you are able to add a touch (1/4-1/2 tsp) of tomato paste as well, that can round out the flavor.
Prep the Salad
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the almonds. This should only take a few minutes, so stay close to the stove, stirring or shaking the pan frequently. The nuts are toasted when you begin to smell the almonds and they barely darken in color. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then chop.
Add a little oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Wash shrimp and pat dry. Cook the shrimp over medium heat, in batches, if necessary to prevent crowding the pan, for 2-3 minutes per side, until pink, firm, and opaque. I like to use Easy-Peel shrimp in the shell as it helps prevent overcooking. Shrimp that have already been peeled/are not in the shell will take even less time. (An easy way to watch for overcooking is to look at the ridge of the shrimp where the vein has been cut away. If this edge thickens or starts to curl and turn white, the shrimp are on the edge of being overcooked. Remove from the heat and cool as quickly as possible.) Remove cooked shrimp and allow to cool, then peel and remove shells and tails.
Divide the spinach onto 4 plates and sprinkle each plate with the divided sliced onion, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and cooled, chopped almonds.
Make the Vinaigrette
Reheat the bacon drippings if cooled. Over medium heat, whisk olive oil into the bacon fat. Continue whisking as you add the mustard, then the vinegar, and finally the tomato jam (or substitutes). Add a dash or two of garlic powder and ground black pepper. Whisk and cook until the jam has melted into the vinaigrette. Remove pan from heat and whisk in honey. Now, off the heat, is the time to taste the dressing to see if it need a bit more seasoning (pepper, salt, garlic) or more oil or more vinegar. I tend to like a higher, more equal ratio of oil to vinegar, so do check to make sure the dressing taste good to you. Give a final, brisk whisk to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Slide the shrimp into the warm pan, and turn to coat. If needed, to warm the shrimp through, place over low heat until steaming.
Assemble the salad
Divide the shrimp among the plates and pour the hot vinaigrette over top of the salad. Serve immediately.
- Deep frying
- Homemade stock
All of these seem to have this aura of difficulty or precision or just a mystical, well-kept secret to success that isn’t shared with home cooks. After my kale chip attempt proved utterly successful and laughably easy, I was ready to tackle my list again with a little more confidence. M and his godfather both started with a seafood risotto (full of paella flavors) when we went out to eat. I stole a bite, of what is my first taste of risotto in my memory. It was just as creamy and lovely as I had hoped, and, after stumbling across more and more recipes, I finally bit the bullet and set up for my first attempt. All that I had read about risotto made me certain that I wanted to make this recipe by the book. I’m prone to substitution and modification, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.
I did a bit of research and cobbled together what seemed like the most-often used ingredients and ratios for a basic risotto. Then I played a little, finally settling on my tangy combo of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and chevre. I was a bit heavy-handed with my basil, since I used a finely pureed frozen version that completely immersed the dish, but otherwise, it was the warming dish that I had hoped. And, again, like my kale chips, risotto was much easier than I had anticipated. It does require constant stirring, however, beyond having to stand at the stove, it is actually fairly simple in terms of ingredients and additions.
I have scaled back the amount of basil in this recipe. My best advice would be to use the fresh herbs. When your chopping it, you can control just how small to chop the leaves (and therefore just how invasive the flavor will be). The basic recipe covers the technical requirements, otherwise, play around and have fun adding other flavors! Since most add-in’s are added at the end of the cooking period, or else at the very beginning, they do not have much of an effect on the general order of the recipe.
Serves 4 | Prep: 15 min | Cook time: 30-45 min
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
- 1 c. arborio rice
- 1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 c. white wine
- 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated*
- Salt and pepper
*If Add-in ingredients to the basic recipe includes a focus on a different kind of cheese (like the goat cheese in mine), sub 1/4 of the parmesan for the focus cheese.
Add the stock to a medium pot and bring to a low simmer.
Prep all ingredients completely before putting heat to your risotto pan. Use the time while the broth is warming to prepare the mise en place. I have heard the advice and lectures about mise en place (french for “everything in place” or the ingredient set up for cooking–chopped, measured and prepped–before beginning to cook, as used in professional restaurants). I, often times, do not follow it or else only halfway: everything chopped, but not measured. Risotto is not a recipe to ignore mise en place. Have all of your ingredients measured, chopped, minced, etc before you add anything to the pan.
When the broth is warm and everything is prepared, place a large saucepan or saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil and melt together. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until turning translucent. Add rice, cook for about 1-2 minutes. Stir vigorously, to coat each rice grain with the oil-butter mixture. A lightly “toasty” smell should be detected under the onion. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant. Add the white wine and, stirring constantly, cook until absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of warm broth and continue to stir and cook until absorbed. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of broth, waiting until the liquid is absorbed entirely by the rice before adding the next 1/2 cup. With 4 cups of broth, you should have 8 rounds, total, of adding 1/2 cup of broth and stirring until absorbed. It takes around 25-30 minutes. The more broth you add, the creamier the rice will get, but you should always be able to notice that the liquid is finally absorbed. In the last few rounds, a small taste is helpful. Ultimately, the rice should be chewy, with the hint of a “bite” or slight firmness, like al dente pasta.
Remove the rice from the heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parmesan, and any Add-in ingredients. Serve immediately.
Risotto will not keep well, refrigeration will make it gooey. Enjoy it just cooked. If you are cooking for less people, halve or quarter the recipe (approximate on the butter and oil. Everything else is pretty easily divided).
My add-ins last night were spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and basil, but I’ve rounded up some of the more classic pairings. Search through a couple google results to get your on inspiration for add-ins:
Spinach, Goat Cheese, & Tomato Risotto
- 1/2 c. sun dried tomatoes, chopped fine
- 1/2 c. frozen or 1 c. fresh spinach, sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 tsp. frozen/dried or 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
- 1/4 c. chevre, crumbled
Stir into risotto with the butter and parmesan after it is removed from the heat. Continue stirring until goat cheese is melted. Serve.
Risotto al Pomodoro
- 3 Tbsp olive oil (replace butter in basic recipe)
- 1 c. plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
Use olive oil in place of butter, adding according to basic recipe. Stir in tomatoes and basil with the parmesan at the end. Serve.
Risotto alla Milanese
- 4 c. beef stock (to replace chicken/vegetable stock)
- 3 Tbsp beef marrow (optional)
- 3 Tbsp lard (if you want to be really authentic. Butter is easier to find)
- 1-2 tsp. saffron
Heat the saffron in the beef stock. Stir in the marrow when you cook the onions. Use lard in place of butter. Follow directions above.
- 12 oz mushrooms of choice, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
- 2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cook the mushrooms alongside the onions and through the broth-adding process. Stir in the herbs after removing from heat.
- 1 1/2 c. asparagus, chopped into one inch pieces
- 1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
- 2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 tsp. parsley, finely chopped
Cook asparagus in microwave while stirring risotto. Add all ingredients after removing risotto from heat. Serve immediately.
What would you put in your risotto?