DIY: Salt and Pepper Shrimp

I have been telling myself I should eat more seafood and less meat. I have made the Cantonese dish Salt and Pepper Shrimp two times; and each time, it has been outstanding. I hope that by adding this recipe to my repertoire, it will only encourage me to eat more seafood.  
Ingredient list:

  • 1 pound large shrimp
  • 3-4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped, keep seeds from 1 pepper
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • vegetable oil 
  • salt and pepper mix*

*For this dish, the key flavor is salt and pepper and to get the robust flavor needed, I suggest using course sea salt, black and white peppercorns, and Sichuan peppercorns. Place the same amount of each ingredient into a mortar and pestle and grind them. You can always make more and save it for later use.   
I learned about Lucky Seafood on E. 12th Street in East Oakland from my family and it’s where I shop for fresh shrimp with heads on. It takes some work, but when buying the fresh shrimp with heads, you may need to clean them, cut off the sharp edge around the head, trim away the claws, and devein. 

Once you have the shrimp prepped, pat them dry as much as possible. Season the shrimp with some of the salt and pepper mix and coat with the cornstarch.  
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat and sauté the chopped garlic cloves, jalapeños, and scallions. Remove once it is browned, about five minutes.  
In the same pan, pour about 1/2 cup of vegetable oil for shallow frying on medium high heat. When hot, lay the shrimp down and cook for about one minute per side in batches. When the shrimp is orange and no longer translucent, remove them to a paper towel lined plate. While warm, you can season with additional salt and pepper mix.  Add additional oil to the pan as needed and repeat until all your shrimp is cooked. 
Wipe the pan clean using some additional paper towels. Return all the cooked shrimp as well as the garlic, jalapeño, and scallion mixture back in the pan and toss lightly to evenly distribute the spices. It’s ready to plate and enjoy!

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DIY: Chocolate Covered Strawberries


Chocolate covered strawberries are a beautiful thing. They are elegant looking, taste really good, and so easy to make. You don’t even need any fancy equipment. I taught my niece how to make them a few years ago and she elevated them by adding detail. This recipe and instructions to make two dozen chocolate covered strawberries is from @ilikeashley.

Ingredients

  • 2 dozen strawberries
  • 12 oz. bag of semi sweet chocolate chip morsels
  • 4 oz. white chocolate chip morsels
  • 1 tbsp & 2 tsp of vegetable shortening

Instructions

Rinse and pat dry each strawberry and line them up about one to two inches apart on a parchment or wax lined tray.

Find a bowl that fits on top of a pot about halfway deep. Fill about one third of the pot with water and heat on medium high. Add the 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate with 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. of vegetable shortening into the bowl. The shortening thins out the chocolate and gives the chocolate a nice shine. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate as it melts. You are looking for the right balance of chocolate to shortening. Too much shortening could alter the taste of the chocolate and too little shortening will make it result in overly thick chocolate and more difficult to cover the strawberries. Once you are happy with the consistency, turn off the heat.  
Take one strawberry by the stem, dipping it into the melted chocolate and turning it around to ensure coverage. Let any excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Lay the dipped strawberry back in its original space. 

Repeat until all 24 strawberries are covered with semi sweet chocolate. Place the tray of strawberries in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes so the chocolate can harden.

You can either save the leftover chocolate or discard it. Either way, wash and dry the bowl and wooden spoon. Place the bowl back onto the pot and melt 4 oz of white chocolate with 1 tsp. of vegetable shortening. 

Using the wooden spoon, stir the chocolate as it melts. The white chocolate should be a little thinner than the previous chocolate as it is used to finely decorate the chocolate. 
Transfer the melted white chocolate into a ziplock sandwich bag. Zip the bag close, but make sure to remove as much air as possible. Using a pair of scissors, cut a tiny tip off one of the bottom corners.  
Remove the tray of strawberries from the refrigerator. Taking the melted white chocolate, squeeze it through the small hole. With one hand, draw lines across the strawberries back and forth until you’ve decorated all 24 strawberries. It gets easier with practice and a lot of fun.
Place the tray back in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes. Once hardened and chilled, they are ready to eat. For both practical reasons and for a nice presentation, I recommend placing each strawberry in its own cupcake liner.  
That’s it! Easy, peasy!  

 

Cooking Class at Sur la Table

It’s a brand new year and many of us have made new year’s resolutions. One of my resolutions is to cook more at home. Cooking at home usually allows for eating healthier. How can you get motivated to cook more? One way is to get a jump start and take a cooking class. Last Sunday, my friends and I took a hands-on cooking class called Flavors of Italy at Sur la Table which was a lot of fun.
  
Our instructor was Chef Corey. Our kitchen class was made up of four teams of four and we made a soup, a salad, an entree, and watched our instructor make dessert.  
 With most ingredients washed, measured, and prepped, we made a Ribollita Soup which is a Tuscan bean and vegetable soup thickened with rustic bread. Chef Corey gave us tips on knife safety before we started chopping which I appreciated. We also used a gadget to remove the tough kale stems and help separate herbs which I used for the first time. 
 We prepared a Winter Greens Salad with Walnuts and Gorgonzola. Grilling radicchio on a grill pan is actually something I’m excited to start doing. Cold salads in the winter is not always appealing, so this is a great alternative. 
 The entree we cooked was a Marsala Braised Chicken with Mushrooms. The fragrance that olive oil, butter, shallots, and mushrooms permeate is one of my favorite scents.   
 The Butterscotch Budino with Olive Oil and Sea Salt is a dessert that takes time to set, so there was a batch already prepared for us. We watched as Chef Corey showed us how to make this tasty dessert.  

 The class took about 2 1/2 hours. At the conclusion, we enjoyed a delicious four course meal.   

 Are you motivated to cook now? Some other ways I have motivated myself to cook is to buy cookbooks written by my favorite chefs and subscribe to the New York Times Cooking Newsletter. I’ll be doing more cooking, so you can subscribe to this food blog or follow me on Instagram. If baking is your thing, my favorite website to go to is King Arthur Flour.  
 

DIY: Easy, Fresh, Pita Bread

What if I told you that you could make pita bread easily? More than likely, you have everything you need to make it already in your pantry. Not only that, but to eat warm fresh pita bread tastes so much better than what you can buy at the store.  
I recently discovered this recipe from the website Half Baked Harvest and have already made it a few times. The results are wonderful.  
Minimal ingredients are:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the hot water and yeast together in a large bowl and stir so that the yeast can dissolve. 
  Add the flour, salt, and olive oil to the bowl and mix together well with a wooden spoon.   
 Once it is well blended, turn the dough onto a floured work surface.   
 Knead the dough with your hands until it smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Add a small amount of olive oil to a clean bowl and place the dough in the bowl and turn it in order to coat the dough in its entirety.   
 Wrap the bowl with Saran Wrap and let it rest for about an hour. The dough will rise and become springy.   
 Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into eight even pieces and then put them back into the covered bowl. 
 One at a time, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch in thickness. If the dough gets sticky, add more flour as needed.   
 Heat up a flat griddle or an iron skillet to a medium high heat. Brush some olive oil on the heated pan. Place one of the rolled out pieces of dough onto the pan. If you have a large enough griddle, you can cook two at a time. Watch for bubbles to form on the dough, about thirty seconds and then flip over.   
 Grill for about a minute. Shortly after the edges of the pita bread begins rising off the pan, it will have created toasted spots and is ready to flip over again.   
 Grill for a final minute. The pita bread will puff up and you will know it’s ready. Repeat the process to make 8 pita bread.
 You will be amazed at the deliciousness of the pita bread as well as the nice chewy texture. I bought three different types of hummus from Trader Joe’s to dip the pita bread in. Of the garlic hummus, the beet hummus, and the tomato basil hummus, I enjoyed the latter one best.   
 

DIY: Vegetarian Risotto with Brussels Sprouts and Browned Butter 

 I bookmarked a recipe for Risotto with Brussels Sprouts and Browned Butter that the Pioneer Woman originally posted about a month ago. It was a vibrant dish that looked and sounded so good. I decided to make it for our monthly cooking party which was themed vegetarian. Funny thing is that I go buy all the ingredients for the dish and bring it to the house and then realize it is not a vegetarian dish. I was emptying out my grocery bag onto the kitchen counter and pulled out chicken broth. I had failed. The hostess luckily saved me because she had vegetable broth. So this version of the Pioneer Woman’s dish is indeed vegetarian.
Ingredients:  

  • 4 oz of unsalted European butter
  • Half a stalk of Brussels sprouts or about 40 sprouts cut in half
  • 1 finely diced onion
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth
  • Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh thyme
  • Shaved parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium low heat. Once melted, it will begin to gently foam. Keep your eye and nose on it as you are looking for the butter to turn a golden brown and give off a nutty aroma. Remove the skillet from the heat and scoop out about half the liquid to be used later.

Increase the skillet to medium heat and add the Brussels sprouts. Sauté the vegetables until tender and golden brown, about eight minutes. Remove the Brussels sprouts from the skillet and set aside. 

 
Now add the onions, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the browned butter to the skillet and sauté until tender.    

Add the arborio rice and combine it well with the onions and garlic.    
Add 1 cup of the vegetable broth and continue to stir until the broth becomes absorbed. Repeat this process until you’ve used up the broth.  
The cooking of the rice should take about 25 minutes and result in an al dente rice. This is where you should taste for texture to know when the rice is ready.   

Add the Brussels sprouts, thyme, salt, pepper, and the remaining browned butter and mix well.  
Plate the risotto and add shaved parmesan cheese.  
This was scrumptious as a vegetarian dish, but I think it would have tasted a notch better with chicken broth!

 

DIY: Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Who doesn’t like potatoes, cream, and cheese? If you are willing to fork out some cash for some Cowgirl Creamery cheese, I promise that you can produce a delicious potato gratin.  
Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California makes some of my favorite cheeses. The Marin County artisan business started in the 1990’s and has expanded to include a cheese shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Although you can get their cheese at many Bay Area grocers including Whole Foods, they still make their rounds to Farmer’s Markets around the Bay Area including the Saturday market at Grand Lake in Oakland.  

Red Hawk is one of their most winningest cheeses and is the featured ingredient for this potato gratin recipe. Made from organic cow’s milk, Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese that has been aged for four weeks and washed with a brine solution.  
This recipe for Red Hawk Potato Gratin is adapted from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks:
Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces Red Hawk, cut into wedges (including rind)

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil to pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft (about ten minutes).

 
Turn off heat and add heavy whipping cream and half of the grated parmesan cheese.  Mix well.
 
Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture into a casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes to the pan. Add half of the Red Hawk cheese wedges. 
 
Layer on the remaining potatoes, Red Hawk wedges, and the onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
 
Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another half hour or until the top is brown and bubbly.

  

The results are amazing.

DIY: Strawberries and Whipped Cream filled Cream Puffs

Last Sunday afternoon, I hung out with my two youngest nieces, ages 7 and 9. They wanted to bake. I was inspired to make cream puffs having recently eaten the Italian version, bigne alla crema from Ca’ momi in Napa. If you are in the area, you must visit Oxbow Market and pick up some of these delicious pastries.  

  Never having made cream puffs before, I searched for a simple recipe. I found a recipe online from King Arthur Flour. I use King Arthur flour and have been successful in the past using their recipes. I already had most of the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream would fill these pastry shells. I picked up some of the sweetest organic strawberries from the farmer’s market earlier in the morning so I would add that to the recipe. This recipe makes a dozen cream puffs.
Ingredients for pastry:

  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 basket of strawberries, washed and sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place water, butter, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat. Let the butter melt. When the butter reaches boiling point, remove the pan from heat. Quickly add the flour and stir vigorously.

 Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take less than a minute.
 Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer dough to a mixing bowl and let the cool for 10 minutes. Beat eggs one at a time. Once last egg is in, beat for an additional 2 minutes.
 Measure out the dough into 3-4 tablespoons rounds and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about 3 inches apart.
 Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes. The pastries should be a medium golden brown. Do not open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
Remove the pastries from the oven. Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape. Place them on a rack to cool. 
 To make the whipped cream, pour the heavy whipping cream into a mixing bowl, and begin to whip on high speed. Add sugar gradually as you whip. Continue to whip until stiff and smooth. 
  
The cream puffs are now ready for assembling.  
 Slice the cream puffs in half and fill the bottom halves of the puffs with whipped cream, add sliced strawberries, replace their tops, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

 The nieces loved helping to make them and eat them. They especially loved the whipped cream.