26 November 2011

Shrimp Scampi on Couscous

This year I've had so much to give thanks for.  Opportunities for learning new languages, traveling to Taiwan and South Korea this summer, spending time with dear friends, and experiencing personal growth.  This has been a good year, and I was thrilled to be able to celebrate and give thanks with family and friends this past weekend.  I've especially enjoyed getting to spend some time with my brother, who was home from grad school for the holiday, sharing inside jokes and getting excited together about the things we both get so excited about.

One of the things that always reminds me of my brother is this dish, scampi on couscous.  I've made it for him over the years, and he loves it so much that he's even learned to make it for himself away at grad school now.  I couldn't contain my excitement and pride when I found out he had made it on his own!

An absolute family favorite in my home, this shrimp scampi on couscous is a light yet satisfying meal.  Though we certainly enjoy this meal year-round, I think the clean flavors and textures of the dish, plus the ease of preparation and the figure-friendly calorie count, make this a dream of a meal for the post-Thanksgiving exhaustion that might be beleaguering some cooks (and eaters) right about now.

Mounds of fluffy couscous cooked in tomato broth are topped with spicy, garlicky scampi and finished with bright notes from lemon juice and parsley.  The tomato broth can be made (and frozen) weeks or days in advance, and the couscous and scampi cooks up in just a few minutes.  This is ideal not just for days when you feel too tired to cook much, but also for effortless entertaining.

Consider making this a part of one of your holiday menus, either as a simple main course, serving it up with some crusty bread and a green salad, or as a first course as a part of a more elaborate meal!

Scampi on Couscous
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Makes 4 Servings

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato purée or crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup water
sea salt, to taste
2 cups plain couscous
1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 garlic cloves minced
1 lemon, juiced
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for serving

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. When oil is fragrant, add onion, carrot and 2 cloves smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato purée, chicken broth, and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered.

Remove sauce from heat and blend until smooth with an immersion stick blender. Check for seasoning, adding salt to taste.

Stir in 1 cup of water to the sauce and bring to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the red pepper. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and the 2 cloves of minced garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp or they will become tough. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Check for seasoning.

To serve, mound the couscous in the center of a platter and top with the shrimp. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

12 November 2011

Garlic Tutorial

Today I'm taking a break from my usual recipe posting to share with you something that has absolutely revolutionized my world: a new way to peel garlic!  The claim?  Peel a whole bulb of garlic in 10 seconds flat.


Growing up, I learned the family trick of crushing garlic cloves with the tines of a fork to loosen the skin and then removing all the skins by hand.  I later modifed this technique by switching over to using the flat of a chef's knife instead of a fork.  What I love about this method is that it is a great way to start the mincing process.  This isn't based on any rigorous testing or anything, but I feel like the minced garlic somehow tastes better if it's crushed versus chopped.  Maybe it's similar to tearing lettuce leaves instead of chopping them?  But anyway, what I do NOT like about this process is that the garlic juices, released upon crushing, cause the papery layers of the clove to stick all over the place...on my knife, my cutting board, my fingers.  And I always have to check over each smashed clove to make sure I don't have any of the dry skins mixed up with the garlic.

So when I saw this technique, demonstrated by the folks at Saveur, I was intrigued.  Could it be?  Can you really peel a whole clove, nay, a whole BULB of garlic in 10 seconds?  Truly removing all those pesky, papery garlic skins?  And in such record-breaking time?  When I first watched this tutorial, I was a bit skeptical--you never know what goes on when there's a cut in a video.  Could they possibly have slipped in some peeled garlic cloves to make this technique look successful?  So I tried it out last night, and yes indeed folks, it is true.

1. Smash a whole head of garlic with the heel of your hand to separate the cloves.
2. Place all the cloves into a lightweight metal bowl.
3. Invert a second bowl over the first bowl.
4. Hold the bowls tightly together and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
5. That's it!  Now you'll have whole cloves of garlic that are completely peeled.

My life is pretty much forever changed.  Peeling garlic this way totally works!  And by the way, when I tried this, my bowls weren't as big as the ones shown in the tutorial, nor were they a pair of bowls exactly the same size as each other.  Just as long as you hold the bowls tightly together to keep your garlic from flying out, it should be fine.  Getting at that beloved garlic has just become all that much easier!

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

06 November 2011

Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen: Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Ginger-Pecan Streusel

With some very warm weather during October, summer almost seemed to have been making a comeback in southern California.  But this weekend, with rain and cold coming through the state, it feels like Fall is finally settling in.  And when chilly weather comes, there's often nothing nicer than cooking with fragrant spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Spiced Pumpkin Cake, or Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen, came into being as a result of my recent pumpkin mode intersecting with dreams of last month's Zwetschgenkuchen (Italian Prune Plum Cake).  I love the super dense cake base--almost verges on what you might call a crust--that my Opa's recipe yields, and though the fresh prune plum filling is an absolute classic, I think my Spiced Pumpkin Cake, containing creamy pumpkin custard and a spicy candied ginger-pecan streusel, is perfect for this time of year.

This recipe makes more than my family and I can eat in one weekend, so I've frozen away a lot of it for enjoyment in the coming weeks.  And cutting up the cake into individual servings before freezing makes it super easy to pull out a piece any time I want a nice sweet snack.  I have come to love eating it still partially frozen--the pumpkin custard makes this cake just like an ice cream sandwich treat!

Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen 
Adapted from Gerhard Sommermann

150 g (11 Tbs.) butter, room-temperature
170g (¾ cup plus 2 Tbs.) sugar
1 egg, room temperature
400g (3 cups sifted) flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
100ml (scant ½ cup) milk, room temperature

Cream butter and sugar, then add the egg and beat until smooth. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and incorporate into creamed mixture, along with the milk. Dough keeps 1 week in the refrigerator.  Spread dough into the bottom of an ungreased 11 x 17 –inch cake pan. To build the sides of the cake, push the dough up the sides of the pan and create a ¼ -inch rim.

Spread pumpkin filling over top and then sprinkle with Spiced Streusel.  Bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.  Serve with whipped cream that has been sweetened with vanilla and sugar.

Pumpkin Filling
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams (or sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fine-grained salt

For the pumpkin filling, blend together the sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla.  In a the large bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and blend until it forms a smooth mixture.  With the processor running, add the condensed milk mixture in a slow stream and process until fully incorporated.

Spiced Streusel:
100g (1/2 cup) sugar
100g (7 ½ Tbs.) butter
180g (1 1/3 cups sifted) flour
¼ cup minced crystallized ginger
60g (½ cup) coarsely chopped pecan pieces