Monday, 30 September 2013

Garlic Lemon Shrimp Pasta

These are really the last few nice days of the year... Even if there is great stuff about the fall (like my birthday, scarves, leather jackets and Doc Martens being tolerable again, etc.), I still resent the cold. What can I say, I am happy in the summer, even the really weird ones like the one we've had this year. It was rather rainy, and besides that unbearable heat wave in early July, it's been pretty chilly... but it was summer!

Oh well, all good things come to an end, I suppose. But it's not because the days are shorter and less sunny that I can't enjoy a little sunshine on my plate!

My boyfriend brought home a shape of pasta I had never seen before: cute little curly cues!

I decided I would use them along with a classic summer-y combo of ingredients: garlic, lemon and shrimps. I've made a gorgeous risotto with those glorious flavors once, and it was little plate of sunshine. Exactly what I needed to cheer me up from looking at the weather forecast...

1 package dry pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound medium or shrimps, peeled and deveined
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan, grated (optional)
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions, or until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. After 2 minutes, turn the shrimps over, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, and red pepper flakes.

Stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and white wine to the shrimp. Stir to reduce the wine slightly. Stir in the lemon juice.

Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the shrimps, along with the Parmesan and pine nuts. Toss well to mix everything together.

Serve with extra lemon wedges, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Just like my risotto, this dish tasted just like a summer evening by the beach should: briny, lemony and garlicky. I have a feeling I will keep this little recipe handy every time the weather will get grey, rainy and generally miserable. It will be the perfect way to cheer up when the sun won't show it's face through autumn clouds!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Ultimate Gingerbread Cupcakes

I am usually the person making cupcakes for every imaginable occasion. Let's face it, few occasions are cupcake-inappropriate. Birthdays, holidays, PMS, bachelor party, thank-you-awesome-tattoo-artist-present... And since I love baking, there is always butter, eggs and various sprinkles all over my kitchen.

So you can imagine how refreshing is it when someone bakes me cupcakes!! My friend JD, photographer extraordinaire and raging geek, is also a very good cook (sorry ladies, he's married!) and he knows how much I love ginger. So when he couldn't make it to my birthday dinner, he made it up to me by whipping up a beautiful batch of cupcakes that shall henceforth be known as the ultimate gingerbread cupcakes.

I can't tell you how excited I was when he dropped those off at my place! We had dinner, opened a bottle of bubbles and enjoyed those little ginger bombs watching David Fincher movies. What? It was my birthday!!!

JD is such a sweetheart that he even shared his recipe with me so that other people could enjoy those wonderful cupcakes: fellow ginger-addicts, rejoice!

Gingerbread cupcakes (24 cupcakes):
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

Line two cupcake pans with paper liners and preheat the oven to 350. In a small/medium sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Carefully whisk them together. In another medium sized bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine oil, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix well. Add eggs and mix until incorporated. Next, add the molasses and mix well. Add half of the dry ingredients and half of the hot water to the sugar mixture and mix until incorporated. Repeat with the second half of the dry ingredients and hot water. Transfer the batter to the cupcake pans and fill each liner about 2/3 full. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Maple cream cheese icing:
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, room temperature
2 tbsp maple syrup
4 cups powdered sugar

In a medium sized bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese on medium high speed until smooth and creamy. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar, one cup at a time, mix until incorporated, and scrape the bowl after each addition. Add the maple syrup and mix well. You can test it at this point and decide if you want more maple syrup or not. Add more powdered sugar and mix, until the icing is the desired consistency.

Ginger syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
a few pieces of fresh ginger, peeled

Put the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a light simmer and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool overnight. Remove the pieces of ginger.

When the cupcakes have cooled, frost with the maple syrup cream cheese icing and drizzle the ginger syrup on top. Top each cupcake with a piece of candied ginger.

And voila! Ultimate gingerbread cupcakes!

The cakes were wonderful, moist and just spicy enough, and the very sweet and rich icing is perfectly balanced by the tangy ginger syrup. It took a lot of self-control not to eat the entire batch in one sitting, but I guess I am getting a bit wiser as I get older (not!) and I made the cupcakes last all weekend.

Thank you JD, for the wonderful birthday cupcakes! And a big thank you to the wonderful friends who celebrated with me Saturday night! You guys are the best, and I am so lucky to have you in my life! xxxxx

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Portobello and Goat's Cheese Risotto

My baby brother just got his wisdom teeth removed... I've been through some rather intense dental surgery in the past, so I know first-hand how much it sucks to hardly be able to open your mouth to talk, let alone eat. And then chewing is incredibly painful...

To cheer up the bro, I got him the new Franz Ferdinand album and I made him a batch of something delicious he would not need to chew to enjoy! This is what's so wonderful about risotto: it's rich and creamy, but it's got a perfectly soft consistency that requires very little teeth! It's also great comfort food, and it's very filling.

Thanks to my best friend's careful instructions, I got pretty good at whipping up a delicious batch of risotto (my own tomato-basil recipe and this shrimp-lemon risotto were both huge, delicious hits), and I had wanted to try this recipe for a while. My brother loves mushrooms and cheese, so it was absolutely perfect!

The original recipe (from "Cookin' for Trouble" by Montreal's own Nadia G.) called for Gorgonzola cheese, and not goat's cheese. Personally, I love Gorgonzola, but it's a very strongly flavored blue cheese, so it's not for everyone... My brother has always preferred milder cheeses, and really, can you go wrong with goat's cheese? No, you can't. Choose a cheese with a soft, crumbling consistency as opposed to the ones that are very creamy and runny.

As with any other risotto recipe, get all your ingredients prepared and measured in advance. A risotto requires constant attention, so if you realize you have to run off to get your Parmigiano, do it at the risk of rice sticking to the pan. Just sayin': this is one instance in which being organized pays off. Also, an angled spatula is the best tool with which to stir to ensure no tiny grain of arborio is left behind.

My advice to make the 30-or-so minutes spent stirring go by faster: pour yourself a glass of the white wine when you are done measuring the cup that goes in the pot, and blast some fist-pumping music. Trust me, your risotto will be ready before you are done with the wine.

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 portobella mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup goat's cheese (or Gorgonzola, if you feel adventurous), crumbled
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Sea salt and ground pepper

Pour the stock into a medium pot and heat to a simmer; keep it simmering over medium-low heat. In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute, until golden. Add the onion and mushroom and sauté them for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms start releasing some moisture and become nice and fragrant.

Stir in the arborio rice and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring to make sure the grains of rice are covered with oil.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and let it reduce completely, stirring.

Once the wine is gone, add the simmering stock 1 ladleful at the time. Let the rice absorb the stock, stirring constantly, and add the next ladleful, and so on until all 4 cups are mixed in and absorbed.

Fold in the cheeses and stir for a few minutes, until they have melted and are well incorporated.

Add a generous pinch of sea salt, several pinches of freshly cracked black pepper, mix and serve.

Now my brother is lucky I love him as much as I do, because as soon as I tasted the final result, I could have just kept on eating straight from the pan until there was nothing left... Earthy mushrooms, creamy, gooey, cheesy-ness, al dente arborio rice... My stars!!

My brother was very happy to get this luxurious risotto as a get-better treat! I wasn't there to see how fast he wolfed the whole thing down, but knowing him, it must have been gone in the blink of an eye.

Hope you get better soon, baby bro! xx