February 27, 2017

Voodoo Shrimp

It's been a weekend full of parties. Some, like those hosted by my roommate (*cough cough* clean the dishes) lasted deep into the night (complete with freshly blended smoothies at 1am) with the sole purpose of making me grumpy. Others were probably much more fun, since it's the weekend of Carnivale, or Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday (it's a pretty big global holiday). Last year, it was Carnivale since I was in Italy and France, both of which have huge parades with massive floats and colorful costumes. This year, I'm back in the U.S. and all I can think about is Cajun and Creole food. This recipe for voodoo shrimp is packed with the flavors of New Orleans; it's spicy and creamy and savory and boozy and decadent. I'm not entirely sure why it's called voodoo shrimp, though, since it could be referencing the general concept of voodoo unique to that region, a specific beer only available in New Orleans, or, if you crank up the heat, the level of spiciness in the sauce.

At first glance, this recipe looks pretty hard. There's an endless list of ingredients and a bunch of components to make, but if you break it down and spread it out over a few hours it's not nearly as intimidating. The dish essentially consists of shrimp and sausage in a tomato cream sauce infused with andouille sausage and beer. I usually start with the shrimp. I buy unpeeled shrimp so I can use the peels to make a stock to base the sauce on. It only takes a few minutes to peel and devein them, and by the end of it you'll be a pro. The newly peeled shrimp are tossed in a wet spice mixture and left to marinate for a few hours while you work on the rest of the dish.

The sauce is the next step. I brown some andouille sausage in a big pot until it's nice and crisp and there's plenty of flavorful fat to cook the rest of the ingredients in. I also throw in some garlic and onions for extra flavor because every good sauce needs those aromatics. Those come back out of the pot so you can make a shrimp stock to stir in later. If you keep the sausage and onions in, they'll add extra flavor, but you'll have to pick them out when you strain the sauce (if that doesn't make sense now it will later I promise). The shrimp shells and additional spices are added to the pot with the andouille fat and cooked for a couple minutes. Instead of adding water to make the stock, I use guinness and chicken broth with a splash of worcestershire and lemon juice. You can use any beer you like, but I prefer guinness for the dark color and complex flavors. That all gets simmered for about half an hour and the shells are strained out (see, I told you; if you had sausage and onions in there too that would make it infinitely more difficult).

The actual sauce starts with a roux, a thickening agent made from fat and flour. Just melt some butter, add some flour, and cook it until thick and shiny. The stock is stirred in along with some tomatoes and the sausage and onions. I like to let it simmer for a bit, and when I'm ready to eat I stir in the cream and shrimp and let it go just until the shrimp are cooked (when they're opaque). Once you stir in the cream, you really don't want to cook it for too long. I'll pretty much shovel it right onto some rice or grits and that's all the party I need.

1 1/2 lbs Unpeeled Shrimp
1/2 lb Andouille, Diced
1 T Paprika
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Cayenne
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 tsp Pepper
2 T Brown Sugar
3 T Oil
1 Small Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Guinness
1/4 Cup Worcestershire
1 T Lemon Juice
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 T Butter
2 T Flour
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes, Drained
1/2 Cup Cream

Peel and de-vein the shrimp; save the shells.

Whisk the paprika, chili powder, cayenne, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, and pepper together.

Whisk 3 T of the spice mixture with the oil. Add the shrimp and marinate for 2-3 hours.

Brown the andouille in a large pot with another splash of oil. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, shrimp shells, and 2T spices to the pot with the sausage fat. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the guinness, worcestershire, lemon juice, and chicken broth. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, then strain to remove the shells.

Heat the butter in a large pot, either new or cleaned from the sauce. Once melted, add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and shiny, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the strained sauce, drained tomatoes, sausage, onions, and the brown sugar. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir the cream and the shrimp into the sauce. Simmer uncovered for 6 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque. Serve over rice or grits.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Home Sweet Jones

February 17, 2017

Chicken Florentine

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate this semester is looking at all my study abroad pictures from last year. Those Facebook memories alerts are dangerous. It's hard to believe that a year ago I was trekking across Europe and now I'm drowning in work from upper-level classes and braving the Wisconsin winter, though it's almost 60 today so maybe that's not such a valid point to make. I've been reliving my study abroad memories by cooking as well as looking at pictures, and any easy weeknight recipe is much more appealing given my crazy schedule. This recipe for chicken Florentine is ready in 30 minutes and has all the flavors I loved to eat in Italy: savory chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a creamy, garlicky sauce with a handful of spinach thrown in so I don't get scurvy or something else from my college food diet.

To keep this recipe quick, I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. If you've ever read any of my other roasted chicken recipes, I almost always use bone-in, skin-on thighs since they're so tender and juicy. However, I like how fast the boneless breasts cook and when you smother it in sauce you won't notice the difference. It's easy to substitute in any other cut of chicken you want; just adjust the cooking time accordingly to make sure it's cooked all the way through. The chicken is dredged in flour, seared until brown, and roasted until crisp and juicy. It couldn't be simpler.

The sauce is what makes the dish special. Like any self-respecting sauce, it starts with the chicken drippings, which permeate the whole dish with extra savory notes. I add garlic and onions before stirring in the spinach. You can use fresh or frozen spinach since it gets wilted anyway. The tomatoes are added in next. It's February, so I personally don't think hunting down fresh tomatoes are worth it (they aren't that great-tasting right now anyway), and using canned tomatoes cuts down on your prep time. I opt for the petite diced tomatoes if I can find them since the size matches up better with the rest of the dish, but regular diced or even crushed would work as well depending on the texture you're looking for.

What makes the sauce so tasty is the white wine, cream, and parmesan, which of course make everything better. The wine is used to deglaze the pan and get any caramelized brown bits of chicken or garlic or onions mixed into the sauce. I add a splash of chicken broth for extra flavor, then stir in the cream and parmesan for a velvety richness. Once it's all heated through, it gets slathered on the chicken and pretty much consumed immediately if you're anything like me. The sauce would also be delicious on pasta, since anything with cream and tomatoes and cheese pairs well with carbs. I'd probably drink it out of a glass, but then again I'm not one to turn down pasta if it's there.

6 Boneless Chicken Breasts
1/3 Cup Flour
1 T Butter
1 Small Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Cups Spinach, Rinsed & Dried
1 Can Petite Diced Tomatoes, Drained
2/3 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Chicken broth
1/3 Cup Cream
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Heat oven to 350F. Heat some oil in a large pot.

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour and brown in the pot until golden, cooking in batches as necessary. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, add the butter to the pan. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and cook for 2 minutes or until wilted. Add the tomatoes and white wine and cook for 4 minutes until reduced. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and stir in the cream, and parmesan. Cook for 2 minutes until heated through and serve on the chicken.

Serves 6

February 7, 2017

Chocolate Mousse

PSA to all y'all clueless guys out there looking to woo your lady friends and significant others: Valentine's Day is only a week away! That's just enough time for my discussion crush to confess their love for me before I start shopping for cats, but that's irrelevant. All you need to worry about is crafting the perfect Valentine's Day menu, and I got you covered. I know Valentine's Day is on a weekday, but these sticky buns can be made the night before and baked first thing in the morning for a sweet start to the day. For dinner, it's hard to beat a big plate of Italian-style chicken, especially when it's ready in 30 minutes. This Tuscan chicken is sure to please, and it goes perfectly with a slice of zucchini ricotta tart.

Of course, the most important part of any meal is dessert, and chocolate mousse is a classic. I dressed up my basic recipe by layering it with a fresh strawberry compote, but you can serve it plain or with anything else you'd normally pair with chocolate. Peanut butter, other fresh fruits (cherries, bananas, or other berries), and caramel would all kick this recipe up a notch. I threw in some crushed up chocolate cookies for texture, too. You can layer it parfait-style like I did in the pictures or just drizzle it on top of whatever vessel you serve the mousse out of. No shame if you eat it straight out of the bowl.

There's a few ways people like to make chocolate mousse. Some take shortcuts by folding chocolate into whipped cream, but that's not as decadent as what I want in mousse and it tends to fall more quickly. Egg yolks solve these problems, but it's really easy to cook them and end up with clumps of cooked egg. Romantic, right? I reduce the risk of overcooking the eggs by mixing them with sugar and cream, keeping the mixture on a low heat, stirring constantly, and straining out any cooked bits at the end. I also add a splash of rum to add notes of flavor that add to complexity but aren't quite so obvious; you can swap in your favorite alcohol or one that pairs better with whatever you serve the mousse with. That custardy mixture gets combined with chocolate, which is already melted to speed up the process. Once cool, the now chocolate custard is folded into whipped cream to make it light and airy but still rich and decadent.

My biggest piece of advice for making this chocolate mousse is to use good chocolate. Don't make your girlfriend or boyfriend eat crappy chocolate for Valentine's Day. Take that bag of cheap Nestle/generic chips and throw it out the window (or just bake it into something like tollhouse pie). You have to use good chocolate here because you know what this mousse tastes like? Chocolate. Whatever your chocolate tastes like, that's what your mousse will taste like, only amplified by 10 because you have higher expectations. It's like cooking with wine; if you wouldn't drink it (or eat it in this case), don't cook with it. Beyond that, I'd say be careful when cooking with your eggs and whipping your cream because going too far will give you scrambled eggs and butter, which are delicious for breakfast but not when you're one course away from not screwing up Valentine's Day. Now go find yourself a date and make this mousse.

4 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 Cups Cream
1 T Rum
1 tsp Vanilla
8oz Chocolate, Melted

Whisk the yolks, sugar, 3/4 cup cream, rum, and vanilla together in a medium pot. Cook over medium-low heat until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain into the melted chocolate, whisk until smooth, and chill until cool.

Beat the remaining cream until stiff. Gently fold a third of the whipped cream into the chocolate, then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining cream. Spoon into dishes and chill, along with the strawberry compote below if desired.

Strawberry Compote:
Combine 3 cups strawberries, 1 T Grand Marnier, 1/4 cup sugar (adding more or less to taste), and 2 T water in a medium pot. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until the strawberries are soft and the juices have thickened.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Martha Stewart