Friday Night Home Date

Meal for 2

Sometimes I find myself envying the freewheeling days of my children. Maybe it’s because they’re in the “golden” stage of their childhood – they exist within an endless, joyful continuum of pleasures and distractions, and they wheedle and negotiate like little con artists in order to fulfill them.
  • They Want: Cheese Nips, popsicles, bacon, ice cream
  • They Need: To play 2 hours of Game Cube, to have a sleepover, to build a 700-piece Lego star fighter
  • They Ask: When is it going to snow? Where did you put my homework? Did you wash my blue sweatshirt yet?
Everything needs to happen right now, not in an hour or most dreadfully awful, Next Week (translation: NEVER). It’s all play, sweets, entertainment, and a little bit of whining, all the time.

By the end of the week, I’m whining too – when do I get to play? – and I’m worn down to a nubbin.

nub•bin
noun

A small lump or residual part.

I look like Mommy, probably smell like Mommy, but the lumpy parts of me that are left need an hour in the whirly-tub and a large cocktail.

And that is why we have instituted Friday Night Home Dates in our house. It’s the best! We give the kids whatever they want for dinner and put them to bed. Then the grownups, in this case, Mom and Dad, get to have a playdate; a quiet dinner at home and no need to call the sitter.

Now T walks in the door on Friday nights with his hand outstretched, waiting for me to place a drink in it. I cook whatever I’m in the mood for, and I keep it simple.

This week I made this quick, delicious shrimp with coconut milk. It’s from Tyler Florence’s new book Tyler’s Ultimate. I’m not a Tyler fan, but I have to admit this book has lots of easy, appealing recipes and juicy photography.

To start, I recommend a classic Vodka Gimlet.

Coconut Shrimp with Basmati Rice, Apricots and Lime
Adapted from Tyler’s Ultimate by Tyler Florence

For two, generously

Sauce:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 red hot chili peppers, chopped
4 chopped shallots, or 1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 lime, halved
Rice:
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup apricots, diced
3 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1 cup fresh greens (Tatsoi is great if you can find it, otherwise use prewashed baby spinach or arugula)

1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts
Lime wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, chilies and shallots and cook a few minutes, or until the shallots are softened. Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes. The sauce should be reduced by a third, and slightly thickened. Add the shrimp to the pot and cook until they are just done and turn pink – 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the rice, salt and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cover. Cook 15-18 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Stir in the remaining ingredients except for the shrimp.

3. Serve in shallow bowls topped with some peanuts and an extra squeeze of lime.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Out of the Pumpkin Patch, Into the Kitchen

Slain Pumpkin

This fall, I picked up some gorgeous, locally grown heirloom pumpkins at my local farmer’s market. They’ve been nicely behaved, considering how thick-skinned they are. I placed them artfully on a little stepstool in a corner of my living room, told them to “STAY!”, and they’ve been sitting there obediently for months now, never once moving a warty stem or making a sound. Thank you pumpkins, for being dear, quiet little companions.

But now, they’ve reached old age. I detect liver spots, soft muscle tone and a tiny bit of leakage from their bottoms (poor things, it happens to all of us, I’m afraid). Off to the chopping block they must go! But don’t feel bad for them. Not everything gets the chance to be reborn as a tasty ravioli stuffing.

T made fresh pasta dough (I know! That’s why I married him), along with The Old Man (my brother-in-law), and I hacked a pumpkin open with a one-two combo of meat cleaver and rubber mallet. Try it, it doesn’t require too much strength, and feels very satisfying.

I roasted the pumpkin for about 35 minutes at 400 degrees, spooned out the pulp, and mixed in the seasonings. You can make this whole recipe very easily by roasting a butternut squash instead, (or use -gasp!- canned pumpkin), and using wonton wrappers, which are readily available at the grocery store, or ready-made pasta dough from your local Italian market.

This is one of my favorite things to eat on the planet.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Parmesan and Sage Butter


makes 2 dozen
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree, or canned pumpkin
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese or softened butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package wonton wrappers (24 wrappers)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves

Mash together the pumpkin, mascarpone, Parmesan, thyme and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture on 12 of the wonton wrappers. Lightly brush the edges with egg white, and top with the remaining wrappers, pressing the edges to seal. You can also use a ravioli crimper-cutter, if you find one in your gadget drawer.
Fill your biggest pot with water, add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Drop in the ravioli, about 6 at a time, and cook until they are floating and tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
Melt the stick of butter over medium-high heat until bubbling subsides. Throw in the sage leaves and cook for 1 minute. Pour the butter sauce over the ravioli, and serve with additional Parmesan cheese at the table.

Basic Pasta Dough
Adapted from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook

3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Place the flour in a very large bowl or mound on a work surface. Make a well in the middle of the flour; add the eggs and olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil, then begin to incorporate the inner rim of the well of flour.
Gradually add more and more flour to the eggs until a dough comes together.
Start kneading the dough with the heels of your hands. When you have a cohesive mass, scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly flour your work surface, and knead the dough for a few minutes, until it’s soft, smooth and slightly sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes before rolling out in a pasta maker.


Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Good Morning Matcha

I’ve been meaning to tell you about my intense attraction (well, okay it’s an addiction), to matcha, the powdered Japanese green tea.

It all started last year during a family road trip. It was our second early start, our last leg before arriving home. The kids were happily fueling up with drive-through McDonald’s, T was sipping his McD’s coffee and staring moodily at the road (which is what he does), and I was suffering from in-the-car-too-long grogginess. I’d abandoned coffee ages ago, when I finally realized that even just one cup of the stuff in the morning would rev me up like a sweaty butterfly, made me ragingly hypoglycemic and a chronic insomniac. But very recently, I’d experimented with green tea, and found that a little dose in the morning with steamed milk provided me with a big, warm mug of something to start the day. Plus, it seems to be a perfect level of caffeine for me – a gentle buzz that doesn’t keep me up at night.

So, there we were speeding along somewhere near Birmingham when I spotted a Starbucks sign on a Barnes and Noble, in one of those new, monster-sized strip malls that are so strategically located near the interstate. That’s where I ordered my first Green Tea Latte. I thought it was horribly sweet, with a faintly earthy, leafy taste, but I sucked the whole thing down anyway. A few days later, I found myself craving another one, and actually got in my car and drove to Starbucks to get my fix. But being the investigative cook that I am, I asked the latte maker (would that be a Lattista?) how they made it, and it turned out to be a Tazo syrup, made with some matcha, honeydew flavor (maybe to help disguise the very green taste – I’m sure some people just hate that) and a ton of sugar, which gets mixed with milk.

I don’t like the idea of buying boxes of over-sweetened syrup and then becoming addicted to it, or giving Starbucks my bucks, so I’ve devised my own system of preparing my daily green tea latte. I went out and got a tiny box of matcha, which is fairly expensive, like 16 bucks for one ounce. But, it turns out that you don’t really need much. And it’s an unbelievably gorgeous shade of pure green.

I use about a 1/2 teaspoon in my tea infuser along with some loose green tea leaves that I buy at Teavana or online at Teasource. I heat some milk for 30 seconds in the microwave, and froth it with my battery-operated latte thing-ee (the AeroLatte, to be more specific), and sweeten with some raw sugar.

Matcha seems to have very, very good health benefits, in addition to giving Mommy a fix. This is from health guru Dr. Weil, from drweil.com:

In addition to providing trace minerals and vitamins (A, B-complex, C, E, and K), matcha is rich in catechin polyphenols, compounds with high antioxidant activity. These compounds offer protection against many kinds of cancer, help prevent cardiovascular disease and slow the aging process. They also reduce harmful cholesterol in the blood, stabilize blood sugar levels, help reduce high blood pressure and enhance the body’s resistance to many toxins. Matcha also has a significant amount of dietary fiber and practically no calories.

Also, I just read something about how those good old polyphenols in green tea can actually kill cold and flu viruses. Cool! Maybe I should start adding some to A and J’s morning juice. But how to disguise the unappetizing shade of army green that would result? Hmmmm, I’ll have to think about that one.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food