Friday, 13 March 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Ok, so it's been a while since I've posted. But this one will be really good, I promise. My birthday was on Tuesday, and we debated whether we should go out or cook at home. We decided that what I make is usually better (better than any place we can actually afford, anyway) so I cooked. If it had been a weekend, Matt would have cooked for me, but since it was a Tuesday he had to work. Below is my menu - everything exactly as I wanted (another benefit to cooking at home!) with recipes following:


Shrimp Cocktail

Toasted French Bread with Hummus and Peppers


Grilled Salmon

Almond Rice Pilaf

Pecan Parmesan Asparagus


Store bought Chocolate Dream Layered Pudding (Custard)

Yes... I bought my desert. Typically I only have enough time and energy to do one or the other. If we had gone out to dinner, I would have made something awesome to come home to. As it was, I was preparing all day, and cooking right up until dinner time. The dessert was just fine, and we were really so full that an exceptional dessert might have been wasted... there's still half of the pudding left.

So... we'll start with the appetizers. These are more like guidelines than recipes.

Shrimp Cocktail

1/2 lb. large, raw in-shell shrimp (for 2 people)
lemon & fresh parsley (garnish)

Prepare the shrimp - break off the shell at the tail joint, leaving the tail and last section of shell intact. Peel the rest of the shell off. Boil 1/2 pot of water - there should be enough water that the shrimp will float freely. Add 1T. salt. (Shrimp & Crab Boil seasoning is better here, but I can't get that in the UK. If you have it, follow the directions for how much to use)

Boil shrimp for just under 2 min. They should be pink and firm. I usually bite into one to make sure they're done. If you over cook them they'll be rubbery. Drain through a colander and rinse immediately with cold water. Rinse until completely chilled.

Prepare Cocktail Sauce - Homemade Cocktail sauce is way better than the store-bought variety, thought bottled is not too bad. My ratio is about 2/3 ketchup and 1/3 horseradish. Don't buy horseradish sauce, made with mayo and seasonings. Get plain horseradish - it will probably be refrigerated. Mix ketchup and horseradish until well blended, adjust to taste. (my ratio is rather hot, so start smaller and add if you need to)

Assemble. I have a nice dessert bowl on a small pedestal that is about 4" across. All of the shrimp hang nicely on the edge - tails outside. Put the sauce in the dish, hang the shrimp around. Take a thin slice from the center of the lemon (biggest slice). Cut from one edge into the center, twist one 'leg' each direction and place it on the sauce. Tuck a spring of parsley underneath. Wrap loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Toasted French Bread with Hummus and Peppers
(really needs a better name!)

French Bread Baguette, unsliced
1/4 C (half a stick) butter
red & yellow bell pepper
black olives
paprika, thyme, black pepper, fresh parsley

Slice the french bread diagonally into 1/2" slices. Place on a cookie sheet or broiler pan. Melt butter and brush very lightly over the bread. We're not going for garlic bread here, just enough to make the bread toast nicely and seal the moisture out.

Broil about 6" away from the element until lightly browned - mine browned around the edges, but not in the middle. As long as it gets crispy and dry, that's OK - flip and brown the other side.

Mince the red and yellow pepper, and keep them separate. You'll only need about 1/4 of each pepper. Your pieces should be about 1/8". Cut the black olives into quarters.

Place about 1 T. of hummus in the middle of each toast. Don't spreads it out too much - leave it in a nice mound. Sprinkle red pepper on half of your toasts, and yellow on the other half. Place a few olive pieces on top. Sprinkle the yellow pepper with paprika, and the red pepper with thyme - go easy, it's pretty strong. If you're not a fan of thyme use something else green - dried parsley, Italian seasoning, something like that. Or just do freshly cracked black pepper on red & yellow. Garnish with a sprig of parsley. I placed my shrimp dish in the middle of a large platter, and alternated red and yellow toasts around the edges.

(Since dinner was so big, I picked the 6 prettiest toasts to eat and put the rest into a Ziploc. I saved the leftover peppers and olives and made a perfect lunch the next day. )

Grilled Salmon

Salmon (whole side or steaks)
balsamic vinegar
2 T. olive oil
1 t. dried basil
1/2 t. parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Stand a 1 qt. Ziploc baggie up in a cup. Add all the seasonings and oil. If you have salmon steaks, add around 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar. Swish and squish until well blended. Place the salmon inside and squeeze all the air out. Gently push the seasonings around until the fish is well covered. If you're almost ready to cook, just leave it out on the counter - turn the bag over every 10 minutes or so. If you've thought ahead and made it the night before, place the bag in the fridge, and flip in the morning.

If you're using a whole salmon side, use a 1 gal Ziploc. Use 1 C. balsamic vinegar. You'll have to fold the thin end of the salmon over - skin to skin, meat side out. You'll have to work harder to distribute the herbs, and get all the air out.

To grill - it's always raining here, so I use the broiler. Salmon steaks are easiest because they're smaller. Heat the broiler - over here, I can control the temp, and I set it to medium. If you only have one temp or just hi and low, you'll have to adjust your oven rack to compensate. I broiled my whole side about 6" away from the element and it took about 25 min. The outside gets really dark - don't worry, it's the sugars in the balsamic caramelizing. If you're using steaks, they'll cook faster. There is no need to turn them - they'll just fall apart. Stick a fork into the fattest part to check - it should flake all the way down to the skin. If it's watery and soft near the skin, it's not done yet. We were impatient, so I took it out when the thin part was fully cooked, and the thick part was almost done. We ate the thin side and the rest is going into salmon patties - which will be cooked further, so no worries.

You can take the marinade and boil it in a small saucepan to make a rich sauce for the salmon. Just don't cook it too long or you'll get a paste. And the whole kitchen will smell of vinegar - watch your eyes! Because the vinegar cooks out, the sauce it actually pretty sweet. Try it!

Almond Rice Pilaf

1.5 C. rice (I use brown)
3 C chicken broth (I use bullion)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped (red is nice)
1/4 C. slivered almonds
1 T. Italian seasoning

Saute onions in oil in a large saucepan. When they are translucent and tender (about 5 minutes) add rice, almonds and Italian seasoning. If you're using lo-sodium broth, add about 3/4 t. salt. Saute stirring constantly and let the rice brown a bit and become covered in oil. When the rice begins to stick and burn, add the broth. Cover and cook on low until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. 20-25 min for white rice, 40-50 min for brown.

Pecan Parmesan Asparagus

2 bunches asparagus, ends trimmed
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 C sliced mushrooms
1/2 C. chopped pecans
1/2 t. dried basil
fresh Parmesan cheese

In a 12" skillet, steam asparagus until crisp tender (it will continue to soften after removed). Remove to serving platter, cover and keep warm. It's easy to do this with a hot, but turned-off oven. Place a plate upside-down on top so they stay moist.

Drain liquid from skillet, and saute onions and mushrooms in the oil. When they are as tender as you like (about 5-8 minutes) add pecans and basil. Cook until hot. Spread nut mixture over the center of the asparagus and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Crack fresh black pepper over the whole plate, and serve with more Parmesan.

This dish will keep for about 10 minutes in the oven. Leave the asparagus pretty firm when you steam it, then assemble the whole dish and cover and place back in the hot oven again. The added bonus is that your parm will be all nice and melty when you serve!


Flavaknits said...

Wish you could have cooked my Birthday dinner ! lol
Sounds gorgeous, must try sometime soon - off to do food shop on Tesco Direct.


Naomi Johnson said...

Sounds so delicious! I could almost taste the meal reading the recipes!

tandemsandy said...

Happy belated birthday, the food sounds amazing. You are one very talented lady

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