Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Remembering Nate and Shrimp Scampi

Delicious Shrimp Scampi, a family favorite
 I couldn't let July go by without making shrimp scampi, a long time family favorite. I can't take credit for the recipe. I first had a homemade version while we were on vacation at the river, one night when it wasn't my turn to cook. We used to go to the river with our cousins and take as many kids with us as we could round up. Some were in college or working, but the the younger ones stayed all week, and loved it. This was a dish the whole group enjoyed eating. Many huge baking dishes full of shrimp were produced in that 60's style kitchen with crab nets and silly sayings adorning the walls. That old cottage on Fishing Bay has become beloved in our collective memories. What fun times we had, and this dish always reminds me of those happy, summer days. After hot days spent fishing, tubing, boating and checking on the crab pots that floated next to the pier, this dish ALWAYS hit the spot. Slice up a few of the tomatoes you picked up at the farm stand on the way to the cottage and YUM, that's a fine dinner! As an added bonus, a pound or two of shrimp can feed a crowd without breaking the bank -- and that was a good thing -- since we always had a crowd. Not only our collected crews, but any cousin, aunt, uncle or family friend who happened to be nearby might show up at any time. We all like it that way, the more the merrier.... (Our family has always loved to get together!)

Our middle son, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly 4 years ago this summer, loved those days on the river. He loved fishing and crabbing, and he absolutely loved shrimp scampi. He was a funny kid with a compassionate nature. He'd skewer you with his wit, but it was so funny, you'd have to laugh along with him. His many voices and accents still ring in the air around our house, as does the music he made with his guitar. Last week he should have turned 24 and it's our family tradition that you get to pick what you want for dinner on your birthday. In his honor, we made his favorite.  (Here's my first post about him and a picture of the handsome young man)

I have updated this recipe a little from the original.  Now I add a some lemon zest, instead of just placing a sliced lemon on top. I also add a little dry white wine, so I can cut out some of the butter that was included in the original recipe. The wine will help to keep the dish nice and moist. Don't eliminate the butter -- it adds a wonderful richness that makes the dish shine. Last night I made my own breadcrumbs, but that was simply because I didn't have any in the pantry. This recipe is very easy to make, and very forgiving. For example, I had a few scallops left in the freezer that it was time to eat, so I chucked those in. Also, since my herb garden overfloweth, I added fresh basil, but dried herbs will work as well.
To accompany the scampi, I made a simple salad and topped a baguette with some ripe tomatoes, garlic and basil, mixed with a little olive oil. It was delicious.

I am sure that Nathan would have approved. We still miss him every day. Here's to you, Kid!

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do.

Shrimp Scampi
Prepping the shrimp, with
olive oil, garlic and lemon
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled, tails off and de-veined
1 lemon; 1 1/2 tsp. zested, then sliced thinly
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping Tablespoon minced garlic (~6 cloves)
8 basil leaves, sliced thinly OR 1 tsp. dried basil OR oregano OR 1 tsp. Italian seasoning (eliminate salt if your mixture contains it)
1 tsp. kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper OR dried red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy
1/3 c. dry white wine
4 T. cold butter
1/2 c. breadcrumbs (you can use Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs,but cut back on the herbs)
Cooked pasta, we like vermicelli or thin spaghetti (about 1 lb.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, mix together shrimp, olive oil, garlic, basil and 1 tsp. lemon zest. Spread the shrimp in a single layer in a baking dish and pour over the white wine. Sprinkle with the kosher salt, a little pepper and the breadcrumbs. Cut your butter into little chunks and scatter these across the crumbs. Dot the top with the lemon slices. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the top browns lightly and the shrimp turn pink. (Do not over cook! The shrimp will just get tough and shrink up.)
Serve over hot, cooked pasta. I like to garnish it with a little fresh basil, as it's not a very colorful dish. This amount will make at least 6 - 8 servings, depending on what else you are serving and how hungry you are!

Our Nate, about age 15, with a shark he caught fishing in the Bay one summer.
He loved every minute of that trip!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Guest Cooks in the Kitchen!

Two kind of sandwich rolls and pasta salad. AAAH, the kindness of others...
When our kids were little, we would often start our dinner conversation by saying, "Everyone tell one good thing and one bad thing that happened to you today" and that would always start get the conversation started. If you have never tried this strategy with your own family, give it a try, it really works! Of course, there was always one comedian in the group who would say, "My good thing is that I did not have a bad thing". We'd let that go one time, but the next time we'd call a "no fair" on him.
This week, I had something good and something kind of bad happen to me. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way: I got a little sicky and had to stay home, laying low for a few days. NOW, for the good thing: My son and and his nice girlfriend made us dinner! Let me say up front, that the nice girlfriend did most of the work and all of the supervising, but he helped and actually had major influence over the pasta salad. It was a delicious meal, a different twist on pizza/calzone/sandwich roll and quite tasty! She made some pizza dough and wrapped it around 2 different fillings. One roll was filled with spinach, that they flavored like spanikopita, with lemon, garlic, feta and green onions. The other roll was filled with salami, cheese, roasted red peppers, banana pepper rings and I am not sure what, if anything, else. Whatever, they tasted crazy good! They also made a good pasta salad, with fresh basil from my garden and kalamata olives! Look at the beautiful sandwich rolls, fresh from the oven:
Delicious pizza/sandwich rolls, hot from the oven! The brown stuff is ooey, gooey CHEESE!

The pasta salad was good too, but it could have used a little broccoli, or cherry tomaotes, for color if nothing else. They agreed, but hey, it was the Italian kids' very first try at making his favorite, pasta (see more about the Italian kid here)! Isn't it nice to have someone do something nice for you when you don't expect it? AND they even did most of the cleaning up! It occurred to me that the rolls would make a great item for casual entertaining. You could cut them into as many pieces as you need and the ideas for filling them go on and on! This time, they used a pizza crust mix and it worked out great, but you could make your own, buy a ball of dough from the deli or get the kind in the refrigerated case near the ready to bake rolls, etc. All of those should work just fine.

WOW, I am a lucky lady! Someone cooked for ME! Love that, gotta' admit it! And eating together with your kids and their friends, priceless...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chicken Divan? Divine!

Chicken Divan, Caesar Salad and Homemade Bread --YUM!
It doesn't get any more old fashioned than Chicken Divan. I suspect that originally the word was DIVINE pronounced with some kind of hokey French accent, but I really don't know. There are lots and lots of recipes out there for this dish, many including sour cream, cream of something soup or mayonnaise. Since I am not a big fan of mayo, I've never included it in any incarnation of the recipe. This is a very basic, layered casserole version of the dish that can be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated before serving. One of the nice things about this recipe is that you can use leftover chicken, buy a rotisserie chicken and pull off the meat or cook up 2 or 3 of those boneless, skinless breasts from the big box stores.
I remember my mother and my grandmothers serving this dish at luncheons and showers back in the 60's and 70's (I've included a picture of the stylish ladies below). Ladies love it but men do too! Even my college age son (see the Italian kid from a previous post here) gave it a thumbs up when I made it recently. I like that you get protein, vegetables and starches all in one dish.
This dish has always been one of my favorites, so I see no reason not to include it in my dinner rotation, even if it is not as chi-chi fusion as many dishes now in style. If you haven't made this in a long time or have never made it, give it a try. It's not that hard to do and comes out looking and tasting fairly elegant, in a timeless, old fashioned kind of way! NOW, the biggest problem could be: What is it exactly-- Chicken DI-van or di-VAN? I don't honestly know, but I do know it's pretty darn good, almost you might say, divine.

Chicken Divan
2 - 3 c. cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
2 c. cooked rice**see Cooks Note
1 bunch broccoli florets, about 2 c., steamed
Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
3 slices crisp cooked bacon

First, make your cheese sauce:
3 T. flour
3 T. butter
3/4 c. milk (lower fat is fine)
1/4 c. dry white wine
2/3 c. cheddar or Gruyere cheese plus a little more for topping
salt and pepper

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Pour in the milk and wine and continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce bubbles and thickens. Add the cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning.
Spray a 9X9" baking dish (or a 3 quart oval or round) with a little cooking spray. Layer in the cooked rice, chicken and broccoli in a fairly attractive pattern. Pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with a little more cheese.
At this point you can refrigerate the dish (covered) for up to 2 days. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before you bake it! Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 45 minutes until hot through and bubbly. Top with crumbled bacon. Serves 6.
**Cooks note: Other ways to serve this dish include over toast points or English muffins. When served over toast or muffins, a sliced tomato is often included before layering on the chicken, broccoli and sauce. My family likes the bacon on top but that is an optional thing.

My timeless and elegant Grandmothers, in the middle, with my stylish newlywed parents, 1953

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Antipasto and Lite Alfredo Sauce

My youngest son decided to become Italian this week, and pretty much demanded that I accomodate him by producing one of his Italian Favorites,  Pasta with Alfredo Sauce. I've been tinkering around with Alfredo sauce for years. The original recipe from my handy Authentic Italian Cooking cook book is, quite simply put, just too rich! I've tried blending up concoctions with lowfat milk and non-fat ricotta cheese, lightening up on the butter and lots of other tricks. I think I've finally found one that is both delicious and lower fat.

In addition to the demanded Alfredo, the Italian kid also wanted antipasto, just like you'd get in a restaurant in Little Italy, or Florence or wherever his imagination was taking him that day. Being the kind of mom who likes to please, I produced this:

My version of what comes before the pasta, Antipasto
I wrapped procuitto around little pieces of fresh mozarella and served that with my homemade Rustic Italian Bread (recipe here), pepperoncini, black olives and chopped fresh basil from my herb garden. I drizzled the whole plate with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I probably should have added some kind of salami and another marinated vegetable, but that's what I came up with quickly. Marinated mushrooms would be a good addition.

Here's my favorite take on lightened up Alfredo Sauce. We were so excited to eat this dinner, with the pasta, grilled Italian chicken and a big salad, that I forgot to take a picture. It doesn't really matter in this case, because white pasta on a plate is visually not the most appealing. However, the taste makes up for the appearance so please forgive me for not taking a picture!

"Lite" Alfredo Sauce
1 T. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T. all purpose flour
1 c. 1% low-fat milk
2 oz. lite cream cheese (neufatchel)
1/2 tsp. salt
a little freshly cracked black pepper
1 c. parmesan cheese (recommend Parmigiano Reggiano) divided use
1 T. chopped flat leaf parsley (optional)
4 cups hot, cooked pasta, we like linguine, but fettucine is traditional
In a medium sized pot, melt butter with olive oil over low heat. Add garlic and saute' for a few minutes until garlic is softened. Stir in flour so that it is totally incorporated. Add the milk and stir, stir, stir. You may want to get out  your whisk, since you are dissolving the flour and butter into the milk. Turn up the heat a little and let the mixture start to bubble and thicken. Add the lite cream cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in 2/3 of the parmesan. Keep cooking and stirring til the mixture is thick and bubbly. Pour over the hot pasta noodles and toss well to combine. Sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan and flat leaf parsley. Serves 4 - 6.
If serving 4, approx. 399 calories, 13 g. fat, 2 g. fiber, 821 mg sodium