Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shrimp Tacos with Homemade Flour Tortillas

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While perusing through the Sweet Basil Cookbook this weekend during my meal planning, I came across a comment by the cookbook’s author Dave Becker, that read something to the effect of “why would you buy flour tortillas when they are so easy to make at home.”  Before this moment, the thought of making tortillas at home had never crossed my mind, but when I read the recipe that Dave included in his book, it did indeed seem extremely easy, so I decided to give it a shot.

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As the cookbook promised, the process was extremely easy and I love the way that the flour tortillas turned out.

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They definitely weren’t like the tortillas you find in a package – they were a bit doughier and crisper thanks to the light fry they get in canola oil – but I actually preferred them!  Sometimes the tortillas you get in the package are just bland (even the best authentic ones you can find), these had flavor and texture.  But if you aren’t in the mood to deal with this extra step (it probably added an additional 10-15 minutes to the entire cooking time), absolutely feel free to sub in your favorite flour or corn tortillas in the recipe.  The other components of the tacos were just as tasty, and I wouldn’t want you missing out!

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Not only are the flavors of these tacos superb, but the textures and colors are great too.  You have a slight crunch thanks to a pan fried, panko crusted shrimp, a beautiful purple color from the cabbage and a nice creamy finish with the chipotle mayo and avocado.

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Overall, this dish is easy enough to make on a weeknight, but special enough that you could serve it for Sunday dinner too!  Enjoy!

Shrimp Tacos with Homemade Flour Tortillas (Tortilla recipe from Sweet Basil Cookbook) – Serves 4

Flour Tortillas:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the tortillas
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shorting
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Approx. 1/2 cup water, plus more if needed
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying

Directions:

Making tortillas is actually pretty similar to making pie dough, except there is a lot less fat in tortillas.  While you can use a pastry cutter or fork to break up with shortening, I find the a food processor is the easiest and best tool for making dough.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and mix to combine.  Add the shortening and pulse 8-10 times until the shortening has broken down and is approximately the size of peas.  With the machine running, pour in the water through the feed tube and pulse until the dough forms a ball.  Pour the ball onto a floured surface and cut into 14-16 pieces.

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Then, using a rolling pin, roll out each piece of dough into rounds that are approximately 6 inches in diameter.

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When you are ready to cook the tortillas, pour about a 1/2 cup of vegetable oil into a pan and turn to medium – high heat.  Fry each tortilla for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side until lightly browned and puffed.

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Serve with your favorite taco ingredients or as the base for my shrimp taco recipe below!

Shrimp Tacos:

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs shrimp, pealed and deveined
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup yogurt, separated
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 1 chipotle in adobo, minced
  • 3 cups shredded purple cabbage
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 TB vegetable oil
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying
  • S+P to taste
  • 1 Avocado, sliced
  • Lime wedges

Directions:

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter and 1 TB of vegetable oil together.  Add the serrano or jalapeno and sautee for one minute.  Add the shredded carrots and cabbage.  Stir to coat the carrots and cabbage with the fat.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes until the cabbage and carrots have softened slightly, but is still have a slight bite.  Set aside and allow to cool.

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Meanwhile, pour enough vegetable oil into a large sized frying pan so that it there is about 1/2 inch coating.  Heat over medium high heat until the vegetable oil is hot enough that when you place a piece of panko in it, it sizzles and forms small bubbles around the panko.

While the vegetable oil is coming up to temperature, it is time to coat the shrimp.  For my “wet coat,” I used a mixture of yogurt (1/2 cup) and water (1/4 cup).  Traditionally, fried shrimp tacos use buttermilk for the wet coating, but I didn’t want to buy an entire carton of buttermilk for this one purpose.  The yogurt and water combo made a great substitute.  Whisk the yogurt and water together in a shallow bowl and season with 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper.  In a separate shallow bowl, add the panko.  Now it is time to coat the shrimp.

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First, place the pealed and deveined shrimp into the yogurt, water mixture and allow any excess coating to drip off.  Then place it in the panko for an even coating.  Place the shrimp into the hot oil and cook for 1-2 minutes per side until the shrimp are crispy and have curled up.  You want to make sure that you aren’t over crowding the pan, and thus lowering the cooking temperature, so make sure to cook the shrimp in batches.  After each batch, place the cooked shrimp on a paper towel lined plate to absorb the excess oil.  Place the cooked shrimp in a 250 degree oven while you cook the remaining batches to keep the shrimp warm.

The last step of the process is slicing the avocados and making the chipotle mayo sauce.  To make the sauce, simply combine 1/4 mayo with 1/4 cup yogurt and stir in the chopped chipotle with adobo.  If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can use all mayo, but I prefer the tang that comes with a bit of yogurt!

The last part of the process, is putting everything together.  Place a flour tortilla on a plate, add 3-4 shrimp and top with 1/4 cup of the cabbage mixture.  Then top with avocado slices, the creamy and spicy sauce and sprinkle with fresh lime juice.  Serve with more lime wedges, a garnish of cilantro and hot sauce!

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Fresh Linguini with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula

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I am finally back with a new recipe! After not eating for a few days and then not cooking for a few days thereafter (because all I craved was noodles in broth!), I was more than excited to get back into the kitchen on Monday night!

I was so excited, in fact, that I spent a solid 2 hours on Sunday doing meal planning and recipe creation!  To get back into the cooking groove, I wanted to make the first meal of the week an easy prep dish, but not have it compromise on flavor.  Enter – fresh linguini pasta topped with roasted tomatoes, fresh arugula and a creamy egg yolk.

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The fresh pasta is one of the key elements of this dish because it absorbs flavor so much more than dry pasta does.  And because this particular dish doesn’t have a “sauce” per se, absorption of flavors is very important.  I chose a fresh linguini I found at Whole Foods made by RP’s Pasta Company in Madison, WI (woohoo for local-ish ingredients).  They also make gluten free options as well.

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Another key element of the dish is roasting the cherry tomatoes prior to incorporating them into the pasta.  Roasting the tomatoes gets them very caramelized, slightly browned and totally enhances the tomato flavor more than sautéing them does.

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Do you see the charred pieces around the tomatoes? That caramelization makes them taste like little cherry tomato candies.  While the peppery arugula in this dish works really well as a contrast to the sweetness of the tomatoes, I wouldn’t say that it is totally necessary.  It think you could easily swap it out for baby spinach or leave it out entirely.  I just like to add lots of greens to my pasta to trick myself into thinking that what I am eating is really healthy.

One thing I wouldn’t omit in this dish? The raw egg yolk that goes on top.

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While you might feel squeamish adding a raw egg to your pasta, don’t! The heat from the pasta lightly cooks the eggs  and it acts as a beautifully coated sauce on the noodles.  Because of  the use of an egg yolk, this dish acts a little like a healthier version of carbonara – which is traditionally made with egg yolk, bacon or pancetta, and lots of cheese!  All I know, was that this was the perfect welcome back into the kitchen and back into the world of delicious eating! Enjoy!

Fresh Linguini with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula – Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 2x 9 ounce packages of fresh pasta (about 1 lb of fresh pasta)
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup of EVOO
  • S+P to taste
  • 8 cups fresh baby arugula
  • 3-4 egg yolks, room temperature (depending on how many people you are feeding, but plan on one egg yolk per portion)
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese for topping

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, place the halved tomatoes into a large bowl and mix with olive oil, salt and pepper (I used about 1 tsp of salt + pepper).  Lay onto a baking sheet (with sides is helpful in case anything runs over) cut side up.

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Place in oven for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly browned and have reduced in size.  Add the tomatoes, olive oil and seasoning to another large bowl and mix with the arugula.

At this point, drop your pasta into the boiling salted water and cook per package instructions (should be about 2 minutes).  Drain the pasta (reserving a bit of pasta water) and place over the tomato and arugula mixture.  Combine all ingredients, taste the pasta, and adjust seasoning as necessary (I added a bit more salt).P1020118

Divide the pasta equally among individual bowls and top each one with an egg yolk and generous topping of grated parmesan.

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Have each person break their egg yolk and stir everything to combine.  Eat immediately while still warm with a bit more parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes (if you prefer!).

Blue Dragon Restaurant Review (Boston, MA)

I am so sorry for the delay in updating the blog.  I took time off while I visited Tommy in Boston over the weekend and then on my way back to Chicago, I got sick on the plane ride.  Since that time, I have been bedridden with the flu.  Considering I haven’t been able to eat over the last few days, I certainly wasn’t doing any cooking.  Now that I am on the mend, I plan to come back with great stuff this weekend and next week!

In the meantime, I thought I would share one of the major foodie highlights from the weekend.  On Friday, Tommy and I met for lunch at a very new restaurant in Boston called Blue Dragon.

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Blue Dragon is Ming Tsai’s new restaurant in Boston’s Fort Point Channel area. His original restaurant, Blue Ginger, is located in Wellesley, MA (where I went to college) and is decidedly more fancy. I have eaten at Blue Ginger many times and absolutely love it, so I was very excited to try out Tsai’s new restaurant.

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Tommy and I arrived slightly before 11:30 and there was already a line.  The restaurant had only been opened three days when we visited, so there was obviously lots of anticipation.  We were able to be seated right away, along with about 70 other people! By the time 11:35 came around, the restaurant was completely packed.

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To start, Tommy and I both ordered a cup of soup.  I choose the Coconut Chicken and Basil Soup that had tons of lemongrass, coconut and basil flavor.

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Tommy got the tomato hot and sour soup and it tasted exactly like its name – a hybrid between hot and sour soup and good old tomato soup. 

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We both absolutely loved the soups and could have easily eaten another cup of each.  I am glad we saved room though because we both had big sandwiches coming our way.  Although Blue Dragon also offers noodle dishes and salads, we were both in the mood for sandwiches.  However, we did have a bit of food envy when we saw big bowls of steaming noodles going by to other tables.  As for the sandwiches, Tommy ordered the Roast Pork Banh Mi (Banh Mi is the Vietnamese term for bread) with spicy aioli and house pate.

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I ordered the Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi with a dijon aioli and house pate.

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In addition to the meats on the sandwiches, each one also had fresh vegetables and spicy jalapeno peppers on them.  The chicken sandwich on its own, was pretty fantastic.  As I mentioned above, I love lemongrass and this sandwich had a lot of lemongrass flavor.  I also thought that the dijon mustard provided a nice spicy contrast to slightly sweet pate that was spread on the sandwich. 

Because the pork sandwich didn’t have any spicy mustard, I thought it needed something extra to counterbalance the pate.  I asked the waitress for extra jalapenos which made the sandwich perfect!  One other note about the pork banh mi is that although the menu specifies “roasted pork,” it also came with a cured deli meat of sorts (soprasata maybe?). I enjoyed it, but if you aren’t a fan of deli pork meats, this sandwich might not be for you.

Last note about the sandwiches is that they both came with a tasty Asian slaw and delicious tarro chips on the side.  My only complaint? There weren’t enough of the chips on the plate!  We each only got about 4-5 chips, and I easily could have had 10-15!

All and in all, I really enjoyed Blue Dragon.  It was especially fun seeing Ming Tsai in the kitchen!

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I have actually met him a few times before at Blue Ginger and he is extremely funny, down to earth and great conversationalist. When Kate and I met him a few years back, he told us he loved the Chicago restaurant scene (who wouldn’t) and reminded us that he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America!  If you visit Blue Dragon at a less busy time, make sure you ask to chat with him – it is a very fun treat.

I can’t wait to visit Blue Dragon again for lunch and try all the delicious noodle dishes.  The dinner menu also looks quite tantalizing – Panko Fish and Chips, Hamachi Carpaccio  – yum!  Blue Dragon, I’ll be back!

Baked Shrimp Scampi

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There’s not a lot to complain about a dish that has fresh shrimp cooked in butter, wine, lemon juice, breadcrumbs, herbs and lots of garlic. 

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While these flavor combinations are nothing new, I think that the cooking style makes this dish a bit unique.  Instead of sautéing the shrimp is butter and then building the sauce thereafter, this recipe has everything bake in one dish.  Not only does it make prep and clean up so much easier, but I also love the idea of everyone getting their own little casserole dish as well. Of course, if you don’t have individual serving dishes, feel free to use one big one and just spoon out each individual portion, and it will still be great!

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The crispy panko crumbs that I used here also add a nice textural contrast to the shrimp.  Plus, the crazy quantity of herbs and garlic I use truly permeate the shrimp and the resulting flavor is amazing!

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I served the shrimp with kale chips and sweet potatoes, but I think broccoli and pasta cooked in a light butter/lemon sauce would be a great nod to a more traditional scampi preparation.

Baked Shrimp Scampi – Serves 4 (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs 12-15 count shrimp (try and find shrimp from the US instead of Thailand if possible – better for the planet and taste amazing!), pealed and deveined
  • 3 TB EVOO
  • 2 TB white wine
  • 8 TB butter (one stick), at room temperature
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 medium shallots, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (I like it spicy, perhaps start with 1/4 tsp)
  • Juice and zest from one lemon (about 1 tsp of zest plus 2-3 TB lemon juice)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • S+P to taste

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Meanwhile, prep the shrimp – peel, devein, remove the tail and butterfly it.  Butterflying the shrimp just means cutting a slit down the back so that the shrimp can sit flat in the baking dish.

In a medium sized bowl, add the EVOO, white wine and salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of each) and whisk together.  Add the shrimp and marinate for 10-15 minutes.

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While the shrimp is marinating, its time to make the butter mixture.  Add the butter, garlic, shallots, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, panko and egg yolks, salt and pepper (another 1/2 tsp of each) to another medium bowl and stir to combine. You want to make sure you get everything evenly distributed, because while the butter will melt in the oven, you don’t want there to be one area with lots of red pepper flakes or garlic, and another with nothing.

After the shrimp has marinated, line them around the edge of the baking dish, tail side up. Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp.

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Top each baking dish with an equal amount of the butter/panko mixture.

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Cook for 10-15 minutes until the shrimp have curled and are pink.

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Restaurant Review–Little Goat

A couple of weekends ago when Tommy was in Chicago, we made a visit to Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat.

If you have been to Izard’s original goat inspired restaurant – Girl and the Goat, you know what an awesome chef she is.  She is totally inventive and uses cuts of meat and various ingredients that you don’t normally see on the typical restaurant menu.  Things like wood oven roasted pigs’ face, braised beef tongue and green beans in a fish sauce are some of the more popular items on Girl and the Goat’s menu.  While you wouldn’t necessarily categorize any of these items as “fine foods,” Stephanie Izard has a way of elevating the ingredients and making them absolutely fabulous.

(this was a few years ago when Girl and the Goat first opened – with Stephanie!)

I have actually learned a lot about Izard’s culinary POV (think lots of local, small farm meats, dairy products and veggies) by reading her cookbook Girl in the Kitchen.  Kate gifted me a signed copy (!!!) of this book a couple of weeks ago (best.gift.ever) and it has taken me about that long to get through it.  Not only is it full of tons of unique and interesting recipes, but it also has stories interweaved throughout (plus tips on wine pairings, and “ingredient highlights”).  After going through it, the book just reinforced my love for all things goat and Stephanie Izard related.   The other thing that made me fall in love with her a little more?  Experiencing the wonderful food, fun atmosphere and amazing service at Little Goat.

Little Goat, as the name would suggest, is Izard’s more casual restaurant.  The restaurant has a diner theme to it and serves many diner classics with a serious Stephanie Izard twist.  I thought that the food at Little Goat was the perfect example of how simple comfort food, when done right, can totally constitute a great dining experience.

Tommy and I had a very hard time choosing what to order (most indecisive people on the planet).  However as Kate had eaten at Little Goat the day before, she told us one thing that we couldn’t miss was the goat chili.

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The chili was filled with tender and flavorful goat meat and was oozing with cheese.  The little crouton looking things on top are actually “pizza puffs” which I originally thought was a weird thing to pair with chili, but in typical Goat fashion, worked wonderfully.  The chili also had some amazing spices in it; I am pretty sure I detected the standard chili flavors – cumin, chili powder, but I also think there may have been some cinnamon and nutmeg?!  It had such complex flavor it was hard to pin point one specific thing.

To go along with our chili, we also ordered some beers.  Little Goat has about 15 beers on their beer list – some you have heard of, others are totally unique.  Tommy and I both opted to go local (he got a cider from MI and I got a beer made by a couple who micro brew in Chicago) and we really loved what we got.

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While I think beer went great with the diner theme and the types of foods we ordered, Little Goat also offers wines, cocktails and a full bar!

After our goat chili, came the main attraction – Fried Chicken and the Pork Belly Pancake.  We were hesitant at first to order the fried chicken because it was the most expensive item on them menu (hey at $22, that ain’t bad!) and we didn’t know if we were trying to make the experience “nicer” than it should be.  Our waiter dispelled any fears we had and encouraged us to order it, and I am so glad that we did!

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This fried chicken was a very generous portion of some of the most tender and flavorful chicken I have ever eaten.  My guess is that the chefs soak the chicken in buttermilk for a long time to get it as tender as it was.  The breading on this chicken was also out of this world.  I feel like maybe there was some sort of salty pork product in it?!  It was unlike any breading I have ever eaten and I just loved it.  Not a single bite was left on the plate.  The chicken also came alongside some creamy and decadent mashed potatoes and a salty gravy.  So delicious!

The second dish that we ordered – the pork belly pancake – is included in Little Goat’s “Sammiches” sections of the menu.

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This particular “sammich” was a play on scallion pancakes that are traditionally found on Chinese menus.  The scallion pancake served as the “bread’ around a beautiful piece of pork belly that was also perfectly seasoned.  The fresh cabbage served inside the pancake was also a great textural contrast to the tender pork belly and soft scallion pancake.

After we finished off our entrees, we moved onto dessert.  While we were definitely on the full side, we had to try one of the “sundaes” that Little Goat had on the menu.  The one that stood out the most was Choco Taco, which was a sundae inspired by a popular ice cream bar.

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This.dessert.was.out.of.control.  It had the perfect mix of salty and sweet (which in my mind makes for the perfect dessert) thanks to fried tortilla pieces, rich chocolate chunks and sour cream ice cream.  Tommy noted that he has never seen me “take charge” of a dish the way I did this one.  I probably ate about 3/4 of it and I would take nothing back!  It was sooo good.

So as you can tell, I had a great experience at Little Goat.  It is an affordable spot that doesn’t compromise on flavors, quality of ingredients or atmosphere.  While its a lot more casual and “fun” than a lot of upscale restaurants, this is sort of why I loved it.  I felt totally relaxed and like I could just enjoy the food being served to me.  One of the other things I loved was the service.  Our waiter was not only knowledgeable and helpful about the menu and the food, but he was attentive, funny and so nice.  He made the experience better, which I think is the gold standard for service.

I will certainly be back to Little Goat for dinner and breakfast.  While they serve breakfast all day along (it is a diner after all!), I wasn’t in the mood for breakfast food at 6 PM.  I did see so many things that caught my eye, so I am going to make it a point to go back soon!

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