Monday, April 15, 2019

Almond Bars


 Ok, so before we talk about this week's recipe, let me give you a little bit of a back story.
For years and years, I've had a tradition with my niece, Terri, on the night before Thanksgiving. At first, it started out as "Uncle Joey, will you please help me make stuffing for my in-laws?" It has now turned into "how about you make the stuffing, and I'll have a glass of wine?" Either way, we always get together, and it's always a fun night.
 So, last year, we were discussing our cooking agenda for the night, and at the last minute, Terri decided that she wanted to make a dessert. I said, "ok, what ingredients do you have?" She mentioned a few things and it became very apparent that we'd be baking an apple pie. Perfect. As I was tossing the sliced apples with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar, she said "let's throw in a little almond extract!" Now, that's not usually one of my go-to add-ins for an apple pie, but she declared how much she loves anything with almond extract in it, and I figured, "hey, it's your pie, you can throw in anything you want!" So I added a few drops. It was delicious! Honestly, we couldn't stop stealing the apples out of the bowl while I was rolling out the crusts. And then I thought, "wait, how did I never know that you like almond this much?" I would search for an almondy something for you!"
 And now you're up to date with my inspiration for finding this recipe. To be quite honest, I found several almondy type recipes, and this is just the first (from a site called Genius Kitchen). Something tells me I'm gonna be making ALL of them for Terri until we find the favorite one. I guess I have several months of testing before we have our next Thanksgiving Eve cooking event. In the meantime, these almond squares are the perfect little sweet treat to bring to a brunch or a BBQ or a potluck. They're so tasty and they're super simple too!! And yes, of course, I'll be sure to let you know if we ever settle on a favorite!



4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cup (two sticks) butter, melted
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar



Beat together the eggs and sugar until lemon-colored. Add the butter, flour, and almond extract; mix well. Spread the batter in an even layer on a buttered 13x9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with sliced almonds. Bake at 325° for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pan from the oven and dust the top with a light sprinkling of confectioner's sugar. Cool completely before cutting into squares.


Tips:
Just as with any type of nuts, you definitely want to toast them before you use them.
Simply place them on a dry tray. Put the tray into the oven and let the almonds toast for a minute or two. As soon as you can smell them, take them out! (if you leave them in any longer, they will quickly burn!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Shrimp and Grits Bake


 Have you ever had grits? In case you're not familiar, grits is a sort of porridge made from boiling coarse corn meal. It's kind of like polenta, and it originated in Southern US. It's very often served as a savory breakfast food, alongside eggs and bacon or ham. In addition to being a breakfast staple in the South, it's also classically paired with shrimp and served for dinner.
 Admittedly, I did not grow up in a grits household. Yes, we had oatmeal, or cream of wheat, but never grits. It wasn't until I began cooking and searching for regional dishes from around the country that I discovered grits. As soon as I saw that they go well with shrimp, I was all in. (Frankly I never met a shrimp dish I didn't like.)
 So when I was looking for a brunchy sort of dish that could also be served as a dinner, I figured well, how about a shrimp and grits casserole? A quick google search and I discovered this recipe from Betty Crocker, and it was exactly was I was looking for.
 Side note..... I did see many other recipes that include lots of spicy cajun and creole seasonings and smoked andouille sausage, etc, but that wasn't what I was going for. I mean, I'm sure they're great and all, but I wanted to be able to taste the shrimp instead of covering it up with all those spicy bold flavors.
 So there you have it. It's really easy to put together and it doesn't take very long at all. And since the shrimp cooks right in the casserole, the flavor REALLY comes through. If you're looking for something different for your next brunch, or even just for a simple seafood dinner, give this one a try. If you're not sure if you'd like grits, I think this one will definitely convince you!!




olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup uncooked quick cooking grits
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (5.2oz) container Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs
1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbs flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, removed from sprigs, chopped



Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 11x7-inch (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chopped vegetables in oil 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. In a large heavy saucepan, heat milk and broth to boiling. Gradually add grits and salt, stirring constantly with whisk. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in pepper and cheese. Stir in vegetable mixture, shrimp, eggs, parsley and thyme. Spoon mixture into baking dish. Bake uncovered 25 minutes or until set.




Tips:
For me, the key is the fresh thyme. It adds the most perfect savory note to the shrimp.
Want to add other seafood? Go for it! I think adding lumps of crab meat would be FABULOUS.
Btw, if you can't find the Boursin cheese, just use any favorite herb flavored whipped cream cheese spread. It really adds tons of flavor and creaminess!
Speaking of creaminess, I think next time I may add a little extra milk or cream. The grits really absorbed a lot of the liquid and that little extra bit of cream would be just the thing!


Monday, April 1, 2019

Joey's Spicy Shrimp and Linguini



 Right off the bat, I should probably say that I don't often go the spicy route with my cooking. I mean, yes, of course, I like lots of spices, but just not very much HEAT. Very often, I'll taste something and think "that's too hot." And someone else will say "I can't even taste any heat!" Hmm... Maybe I'm a Supertaster? (Yes, that's a real thing) Or maybe I just don't like really hot food. But every so often.... actually not very often at all....  once in a blue moon... I'll try something with a little extra heat. And that would be today!
 I was thinking of doing a shrimp and pasta something. Awesome. Love it. My first thought was to do something with lots of butter and garlic, but then I decided that it would be too similar to Shrimp Maureen, which is already a perfect dish and needs no tweaking. So I opted for a tomato sauce, still with lots of garlic, and maybe a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes, which is usually my go-to when it comes to adding heat. I kept it pretty simple with just a few basic ingredients, and then I cooked the shrimp right in the sauce. It was SO GOOD! I was so pleased with it, I even pushed the heat a little further than I normally would. Absolutely delicious! The shrimp flavors the tomato sauce, and it's zesty and garlicky and was just exactly what I was craving. It was ready in less than 30 minutes too! So you could easily throw this together for a Friday night quiet dinner after a long day of work, or save it for the next time you want to impress someone. It's that easy and elegant!
 So if you're all about hot and spicy, try adding this to your repertoire. It's really tasty and I know you love it! Enjoy!




4 tbs butter
1/2 medium onion, minced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 29 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
Salt to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
2-3 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb linguini or other long pasta
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
Fresh parsley, for garnish and a pop of freshness


 In a large pan or sauce pot, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onions until they begin to soften. Add garlic and continue to gently saute, making sure not to brown them too much. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, salt, pepper flakes, and grated cheese. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add linguini and cook according to package direction to desired doneness.
Add the cleaned shrimp to the sauce. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through. Toss the linguini with the sauce. Top with more grated cheese and chopped fresh parsley.



Tips:
One of the best things about this dish is that you can tailor it to your own tastes. Make it as spicy as you like! I just did a few pinches of red pepper flakes, but if you like it really spicy, add as much as you want! Add more butter and garlic. Add more onions! Are you making a big batch? Double everything! I also added more than just a pound of shrimp. More is more!!
Whenever you boil pasta, be sure to add enough salt to the water. You want it to be as salty as the ocean!