Friday, November 19, 2010

Not Shrimp Again! And Again.

Yes indeed, shrimp again. Remember that shrimp stock that The Distracted Cook made the other day? Those shells had to come from somewhere. And the very place was from a recipe of Roasted Shrimp that we had for dinner that night. Roasted Shrimp is not the number one way we eat shrimp around here, but it is a good, quick and easy way to have shrimp on the plate in just a few minutes. And the shells are just what we needed for that stock so this decision was an easy one to make.

The idea of roasting shrimp was one that I had never come upon before watching Ina Garten on the Food Network. I went online and printed out her recipe and it has been one of our favorites ever since. You can go here and find it.

And the recipe for the sauce is one you will want to make again and again. These are the perfect shrimp to play around with and we usually have them on a bed of greens - mache, early baby lettuces, or arugula. Another great sauce that is not only good but also good looking is the famous GG.  GG is the Green Goddess recipe that you can find right here on Leite's Culinaria. This dressing recipe is good for a lot of reasons and you will probably come to rely on it as much as The Distracted Cook does. And if you think of some special uses for it, just let us know below in the comments so that we can try it too!

You might be wondering how many shrimp The Distracted Cook actually had in that freezer bag. I took a bag off the shelf and it was chock-a- block full of JUMBOS and there were at least three pounds in there. So after the Roasted Shrimp there was enough for two more favorite recipes. The first is an old family favorite that I have been making since forever. I think I found it in a cookbook from the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans way back in the day. It is the one that I use when we just want some good shrimp salad with no fancy stuff in it. Here is how you do it:

Shrimp Salad


2 or 3 cups (or just use what you have) of boiled shrimp, peeled and cleaned (if they are large you can cut them into bite size pieces)

2 hard cooked eggs, shelled and chopped in medium pieces

2 ribs of celery finely chopped

1/2 cup ketchup

1 T dill pickle relish

1 T sweet pickle relish

Salt and Pepper to taste

A few shakes of Lea & Perrin sauce ( in New Orleans that is what we called any brand of Worcestershire style sauce. Just one of those things that we did.)

Louisiana Gold  hot sauce to taste (optional since a lot of people don't like it hot)

Mix the shrimp, chopped eggs, and chopped celery in a bowl. In a separate bowl combine the other ingredients and mix well. You can either pour the sauce over the shrimp or dump the shrimp mixture into the sauce. Or if you are really lazy like me, make the sauce first and then put the other ingredients in there and save some dish washing later on. It works either way you do it. Give it a taste and see if it hits the spot. You can add more of any of the ingredients, it depends on what your personal taste preference is. Serve over lettuce or if you can't wait, just dig in with your fork before you serve the rest of the group!

By now you may be wondering why those words are in bold font up there in this recipe. That is another way that The Distracted Cook keeps herself on track. I can look at the recipe and see what ingredients I need without reading the measured amounts - that comes later, right now just get it all together. It really helps a lot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taking Stock - Freezers, Refrigerators, and Shrimp

By now we are all aware of the impending Thanksgiving Buffet that we are expected to produce with a smile and certain joie de vivre. If you are anything like The Distracted Cook you are just now beginning to think about what you are going to cook. Oh! Did you remember to tell family and friends that, yes, once again your kitchen will be the Top Chef Kitchen for the big event? Better do that right now while you have at least a week to prepare and they have time to find something to wear.

Of course anyone worth their secret ingredient will reply "Oh what fun! Of course we'll be there. Uncle Bud and Aunt Fanny are visiting so they'll be there too. WHAT can we bring?"

Sounds like a reasonable question, but it never fails to strike fear in the heart of The Distracted Cook. How should I know what they can bring when I have no clue what I am cooking?  This is the holiday conundrum.  No one wants to pop the balloon of excitement for a prospective guest by telling them to MYOB and just haul along some wine. No? Well, yes!

If you are getting the email that The Distracted Cook is getting, then you know all about menu planning, decorating the table, making hand-sequined Turkey name tags (not for the turkey, but you get the idea), and matching THE perfect wine with THE perfect smashed cranberry-yam-brussels sprouts- Jolly Rancher dressing. Exactly!

So. My advice to you is to tell anyone who asks (and there are some who have been coming long enough that know the drill and bring what they always bring) that you will get back to them at the beginning of the week. That usually buys enough time.  And then - words that  echo through our Bravo TV memory - "Your time starts RIGHT NOW!"

Go immediately to your pantry and check that you can at least get into it to make your list. Don't try to straighten it up! This is NOT a clean-up patrol, it is a "Holiday General Quarters Order." What are you  looking for? Umm.... well.  First let's just see what we have - flour, sugar, salt, pepper, moldy bread hiding behind the peanut butter (oh no, not another empty jar! those rascally kids!) and just about 100 cans of "stuff." So that is NOT where to begin.

No,  that doesn't do much for the menu. Why not sit down with a some paper (nothing too fancy or your mind will start wandering as you doodle around the flowers and cute puppies printed there.) The Distracted Cook suggests buying some legal margin notebooks or filler paper. That is the kind with the 3 inch margins.

 Why be so picky? Because I said so. No, really, this is the best invention that The Distracted Cook has ever come upon, and not just for the kitchen. Those extra wide margins give you a space to condense all that writing down to ONE (1) word that is so much easier to remember. And it is almost like having a live index to all your writing and scratching of notes. You can flip those papers and read down the margins to find what it is that you are hunting  when you are trying to remember where the recipe for turkey neck gravy is.

 Trust me here, it works and you will be eternally grateful to the Legal Profession for having this available. It is hard to locate, but if you are in a University Town, go to the university bookstore and see if they have some. And don't get side-tracked by the Engineering papers - they are cute and you will think of at least a hundred uses for them, but you are NOT an Engineer right now. Get the Legal-rule notebook and get out of there.

Take a piece of your paper and write MENU on the top, even if you end up putting all sorts of things on there along with the menu. The main purpose is to "make a plan."  That's it for Day 1 - just make the plan. And this is the fun part. Sit down and read through all those emails - Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and The Pioneer Woman all have great ideas. In fact, tonight Pioneer Woman is in a throwdown with Bobby Flay so you know she has a few things up her sleeve! Make a note to watch tonight and see what she does. Another really great place to find ideas is over at David Leite's site - lots of "tested" recipes which means someone other than a professional has attempted them and lived to tell the tale. Here is where you go: Leite's Culinaria. And right now there is a great post all about Thanksgiving recipes. Get over there right now.

After you list out some ideas for the menu such as turkey, dressing, cranberry stuff, salad, yams, dessert, dessert, dessert you can start the process of Taking Stock. That means going to your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and pulling out all the stuff you have for Making Stock. Do this right now so you:
1. make room in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and
2. you end up with some great stock for next week and
3. get to practice running around the kitchen like you know what you're doing.

When I opened my freezer I found many things and the best was jumbo shrimp that Shrimp Man had brought a few months ago.  They were double bagged and frozen in water just ready for me to use.  I decided to roast some for dinner that night and to make some shrimp stock with the peels! And I learned a very important thing about shrimp stock - I have been doing it the wrong way! Instead of throwing them into a big pot of water and boiling the Devil out of them, I discovered that if I just barely covered them with water and brought them to a simmer I would end up with a concentrated, more flavorful stock. It works! Simmering them instead of boiling them allows the flavor to develop more fully.  Lesson learned!

Here is what you do:

Take the raw peels from your shrimp and place them in a pot of suitable size - you don't want to have them all scrunched up in there, they need to have room. Cover them with about an inch or so of cold water and bring them almost to a boil. Watch and when you see bubbles begin to form around the edge it is time to turn the heat down so that they simmer gently. And just let them simmer for about 30 minutes. If you want to put some onion, celery, or bell pepper in there just add them in after 15 minutes and continue to simmer, skimming off any foam that might form.  Give it a taste and then you can season it however you like. Take it off the heat and let it cool a bit. Then strain it with a fine mesh strainer and pour into freezer containers. Then LABEL them so you know what they are and when you made it. You are now ready with your stock in the freezer and more space than you had before.

Tomorrow The Distracted Cook will let you know what happened to the shrimp that were inside those peels. Those jumbo shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico that are the very best shrimp in the world. Really, they are. The Distracted Cook is so lucky to live right here in the middle of Gulf Shrimp country and to have a Shrimp Man who brings them to her driveway fresh from the waters!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pots, Pans and Potatoes

What IS on that cooktop? Interesting that you would ask right now as The Distracted  Cook is thinking that she needs some new pots and pans, Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Hop in the RDX Razzle Dazzle and drive on down to the pot and pan store. Oh wait, there isn't any pot and pan store is there? Nope, not really. We do have the usual places to look - Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table, Linens N Things, Walmart, Target, Macy's, you know the drill. But what if I want a really "just right" pot for my cooktop and my cooking style? Then what?

Well The Distracted Cook decided to ask for some help and I was rewarded with some pretty good ideas from a group of "in the know" cooks and chefs who are fellow recipe testers. So I am taking their advice and checking out some suggestions. Almost unanimously, All-Clad was the number one suggested brand and for a lot of good reasons. I did confess that I have a rather brutal style in dealing with my equipment. Not that I throw them around, but I have threatened to brandish the cast iron skillet a few times when someone crosses the line when I am cooking! I really wouldn't do that, but I just love the tall tales about the cooks conking someone on the head with the skillet. And apparently I am not the only one - if you read closely in Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking you  will see that he knows about the power of the cast iron pot also. I strongly urge you to read his section about cookware if you, like me, are in the process of refitting your kitchen cookware.

Here is what The Distracted Cook has in her supply of cooking utensils - and you will certainly see the pattern here. I have never really been overly concerned with what I am using to cook, and that is obviously a BIG mistake. If you don't use the right size and type of cooking vessel, the recipes aren't always going to result in a big success. Nope, and I never even thought to consider such a thing! It took a good friend from Canada (Thanks so much, Dan) to point that out a few times, especially when it comes to baking things in the oven (where else would I bake them? but that is another story: think Salt Lake City and SUN, SUN, SUN.)

So here they are: an over 30 year old "set" of Revere Ware copper bottomed stainless steel things. 2 skillets (or are these things saute pans? I better check that out), a big pot, a teeny tiny pot, and then the two that I use most often. There are four lids so that everyone has a hat when they need it. Not too bad after all these years, but when you get to cooking you sometimes need more than just two "good size" pots on the stove at once. And if you have already used them and haven't thought ahead to wash them up because you are keeping what's in them "warm" somewhere in the kitchen, you have nothing to use.

But I do. I have another pot that was a gift from a lovely daughter (thank you Kristin) and it is a medium size  non-stick one. But I have done really bad things to this over the years and it isn't very happy right now. This is what he looks like:

So, the next step is to just do it! But what size should I get? I think I'll ask around again for the perfect all-use size. And then we'll see what we can cook-up!

Actually, this is one of the things that I am going to cook up! Right off the starting block, I am thinking that I will use this new pot to boil some potatoes for the very best potato salad in the world. And it is just the thing for The Distracted Cook because it is so easy, so quick, so good. And once you make it, you almost (almost!) don't have to bother with a recipe again. Here is what you do:

1. Go to this place to get a copy of the recipe (how else would you know what to do??) and print it out and staple it to something so you don't lose it. And don't just put it anywhere - start a folder (another story for later) labeled "Really Good" or something that you will remember as your "Go To" place.

2.  Do exactly what the instructions tell you to do. It is really really easy, isn't it? You will love this potato salad and the creme fraiche and chives really give it a special zing. And guess what? Kids love it too, and that was a welcomed and pleasant surprise.

3.  Remember where you put that folder and what you called it because you will be adding to it. And what's the point of being all organized if you can't remember where your organization is, right?

You may just be asking yourself "So what makes this recipe one that The Distracted Cook would put up here for me to see?" Let me tell you - this is a really good recipe. BUT, you can do a whole lot more with it and that is what being The Distracted Cook is all about - and you know that already, don't you! Just think about some crispy bacon sprinkled over the top - that works! Or maybe you really like basil as much as we do? Well tump some shredded basil over the bacon then. And guess what? If you have some great tomatoes sitting around, a few slices beside this potato salad makes a great plate even better. Go ahead and give it a try - you can follow the directions as far as they go and then just keep on going. The hallmark of a great recipe in the opinion of The Distracted Cook is that it is perfect as is but you can make it "your own" with some additional tinkering. Now go ahead - get out that pot and start boiling those potatoes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Around The Kitchen

I really enjoy reading about kitchen design. During my days at design school I didn't really spend much time on kitchens and way back then it wasn't even really all that much of a design arena. However, today there are so many exciting innovations to consider when you have a kitchen on your "to-do or re-do" list. And Kitchen Design has developed into an accredited design profession so there are so many more resources available to us.

Beyond the generally acknowledged plans for the kitchen work area such as the galley kitchen and the triangle workspace there are so many other features to consider. We have the color palette, countertop materials and finishes, flooring materials, lighting, and cabinetry to choose. And probably the most important selections for any cook to make are those for the the kitchen equipment. You know - those things that make a room a kitchen. Like your refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, stove and ovens and microwave. There are, of course, hundreds of other "fixed assets" that used to be the "extras" such as the built in warming drawers, wine cellars, pantries, freezer drawers, hot water dispensers, and built in butcher block cutting boards.

The Distracted Cook's kitchen was designed and built about 25 years ago and believe me, it looks like it. Now it doesn't have any avocado and turquoise appliances, but it is still stuck in the dark ages. I have already worked through two dishwashers and I am just waiting for this one to blow up any day now. Better put that on the list of things to start studying. This kitchen has served me well, and I have been able to serve from it with great delight and success. But I sometimes wonder if I could be a really great cook if only I had some of those great new inventions. If not really great, maybe just a bit better?

So let's take a look at what we have here. First off, there is that wonderful, deluxe cooktop that was the big deal when it was new. You know the kind. It has the electric indoor grill that you can switch out for the deep-fryer. And it has four electric cooking elements, two of which I have managed to render almost useless. Don't ask how. But I will tell you that I now have some replacements in there and they are looking a bit sad already. This was the Jenn-Air to have back in the day. However, they do not make one that same size now, so to replace this one would entail taking the Mexican tile surface off of the cooking island and putting a new top with the correct size cut-out on it. Hmm. Well if I do that, maybe I can just put a gas one in there, right? Gas is supposed to be best.

Well of course I can, if I want to jackhammer my brick floor to lay a gas line. Or I can have a column installed right there in the middle of the room to run it down. Or I can move the whole thing over to a wall to bring the gas line down. Why is this so complicated. What would you do? What I have done so far is cook off the two working elements and melt the grill! Yep, I read the instructions (after all these years) and it said to preheat the grills. So I did and one of them just upped and melted! So here is what this looks like now:

See that grill over there with the big hole in it? That's what preheating did for me!!

Now The Distracted Cook is certainly not going to claim that being ADD is what melted that burner, but I do recall turning it on, going into the pantry to find something (hmm...I wonder what) and coming back out to find the grills glowing red hot and one of them just oozing onto the heating element. Wow! I vowed right then and there to never preheat that thing again. And to tell the truth, I haven't much used either one of the grills since then.

You might be thinking "Why didn't she set the timer for the preheating of the grills?" and you would be on to something really enlightening. The reason is that the timer on the cooktop doesn't work any longer. Why, I don't know. And the lovely, beautiful microwave that I used to have that had a timer on it is gone. Gone?  Yes, it is gone. It was really lovely. Stainless steel, high powered and I loved it. But one day the door just stuck shut! Yes, that is right, just stuck shut. With my cafe au lait stuck in there! That was just too much. I was sad about a broken microwave, but to have my favorite mug stuck in it was just too much. I finally pried the cover off the front of the thing and released the switch by hand so I could retrieve the mug of coffee. And that was that. Out that microwave went to the recycle bin. So, now there was no timer. And so now there was a hole in the Jenn-Air grill! And so -- I went and bought a timer!! Yes, and it works. When I remember to set it. You see, that is one of those things that The Distracted Cook has to work around on a daily basis. But it is getting better. Because I have devised a great many kitchen tricks. And I am going to share those tricks with you. As soon as we get back into the kitchen. Maybe tomorrow?

Right now I am going to go "pop" a cup of coffee into the replacement microwave which came from Dr. Deeds' office. It is NOT as lovely as mine was, but it does work. Alas... no timer!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why We Cook

First things first. Before we get into the actual mechanics of cooking and take a whirl around the kitchen spaces, let's talk a bit about why we cook. There are many reasons why a cook gets herself (or himself) into a kitchen and starts flinging things around.

Probably the first reason that anyone ventures into the arena of food and cooking is that they are hungry and there is no one else around to do the deed for them. Hunger trumps it all. And if we are hungry and there are others living with us, they are most likely just as hungry. And more than likely, they are all waiting for someone else ( YOU) to get in there and come up with something really terrific. Or whatever.

And after we get into the process, some of us discover that we actually enjoy cooking and all that it entails. Well, almost all. And some of us enjoy it so much that we actually can be caught dancing around the kitchen humming loudly as we get sucked into the rhythm of the pots and pans as they burble on the stove.

The kitchen is a place of constant action. If we are not cooking or washing dishes or chasing pets and kids around the counters, we are probably thinking about what to cook. There is never a dull moment in my kitchen and I would bet that there isn't in yours either. The kitchen is a place that you can clean in one minute and the next minute you have undone it all. Now, that might not be true for you "real" cooks. You know who you are! Your counters are cleared off, your pantry is in perfect order, your cookbooks are alphabetized, and you know what you are having for dinner - tonight.

For The Distracted Cook it doesn't quite work that way as our process seems to be just a bit off the beaten path.  I am usually found searching the pantry for something, well - really, just about anything that looks good enough to eat. No menu, no plan, no ideas, and about an hour till the dinner bell is supposed to be ringing. BUT - that is the fun of it all. What a challenge. Life is never dull. The creative skills are put to the test and it is always a great test. Just don't ask "Honey, what's for dinner?" because you will always get the same answer. And that answer is inevitably "I don't know - but it'll be really great and you will love it!" Well, what choice do they have after all? It's not like anyone is fighting you for the ladle or oven timer!

Really and seriously though, why do we cook? Why do you cook? Hunger for food is a fundamental need that is  fulfilled and that is the first good reason. But when we get beyond that, we venture into the area of creative genius, pride of dominance over pots and pans, interior design (that one is a reach,  I admit,) display of skill, and oftentimes just plain comic relief. No matter what your reason might be, I know that we will have one grand time exploring kitchen mechanics as well as the skills and talents that go into making it one of the rooms we love to live in! And let's be honest, there are just so many really interesting and weird looking things that live in my kitchen that The Distracted Cook can't resist spending a few hours hanging out in here. I hope you'll join me and share the fun.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

And Your Time Starts Now!

"What did I do with that recipe card? Or was it in a magazine? Or is it one of those recipes that I am testing this weekend?” I cannot imagine remembering all the things I need to have at hand in order to make a dish, much less knowing how I am supposed to be cooking it. It seems it is always a contest in my kitchen. As a cook with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder all kinds of challenges pop up, and usually in quick succession. Using the terminology of Top Chef, There’s usually not much hope for immunity and it’s almost always a Quickfire round.

My family was full of really good cooks. I never thought it one bit strange that my Mom and I both loved to read cookbooks as if they were beach novels. My pantry has two completely stuffed shelves overflowing with cookbooks. I’ve scratched notes on the margins of pages. Folders overflow with pages ripped from magazines. What I do with them is always a kitchen adventure. Results are almost never guaranteed, and general mayhem is just another kitchen procedure in my book. This mayhem consists of my scrambling for ingredients, the timer, the proper utensils or whichever ones I can find all while trying to get the oven turned on to preheat. And where did I put that recipe?

You would never guess that someone like me tests recipes for widely read blogs and cookbook authors. I bet that in your mind’s eye a recipe tester is working in a very organized and controlled environment with all the right tools and machines. Ha!  I am very lucky that I am a member of large and varied tester pools. One of the groups consists of professional chefs, instructors, advanced cooks and a few (I hope I am not the only one!) happy cooks who really have no clue.  Well, maybe a clue or two.

I certainly have few great accomplishments under my belt when it comes to cuisine. But I’ve fed children, pets, a husband, extended family, and those brave souls who still venture over here for dinner. They do seem to be weathering the storm rather well, despite being fed by a raging ADD cook.  The calm that my guests see in the dining room and kitchen belies the frantic activity and energy that are its prelude. They know that  there is a method in all this kitchen madness. I have found a way to bring about good results that usually involve an end run or two. The ends justifies the means in most cases and it is the “means” that we will be studying. This is what defines The Distracted Cook. The “means” is my way of thinking about and executing any job that involves the kitchen and food. I have taught myself many compensatory skills that are the bedrock for The Distracted Cook. Opening a cookbook and following a recipe are just not the way I do it! Now, where IS that recipe?

The next time we meet, I will walk you through my kitchen. You will see how I get ready to cook and just exactly who this cook really is! Now where did I put that new recipe we are going to try? Ah well, I’ll just smile and worry about that tomorrow…because I’ll be ready when I hear the judges announce, “ Your time starts right now!”

I love the excitement, the drama, and the food on TV cooking show challenges. I can just imagine what the contestants are thinking as they stare into the camera. In my mind’s eye, I am that contestant and it’s an elimination challenge every time I stand in front of the stove.