Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blueberry Soup:

I'm sorry, but it's about time we all admitted it, summer will soon be over. I know, I know, *groan*... But the sooner you accept that the end is coming the sooner you can start preparing yourself. Now, what makes summer so great is that it's the one time of the year when fruits are not only abundant, but also cheap. Seriously cheap. $10 for a 5lb. box of blueberries... how many do you have?! The flavor is also far superior to those overpriced hothouse or imported blueberries you find in your local grocery store in the dead of winter. Problem is, while blueberries are awesome, there's only so many you can realistically eat over the course of a summer before you turn into Violet Beauregarde. Sure, you can freeze them on a baking sheet till they're rock hard, then plop 'em into a ziptop bag and store them in your freezer. But frozen blueberries only have so many uses, and most of those involve baking (not that I have any problem with that of course).

Winter is known as the season of soups (to me at least, among other things it's known for), so why not make blueberry soup? Soup, made from blueberries... sounds crazy doesn't it. But think about it for a second, gazpacho is a chilled soup made with tomatoes, and I distinctly remember having chilled strawberry soup on a cruise once, so who's to say why not. Plus, you'll greatly appreciate that fresh blueberry taste in the dead of winter. So why post it now? Because now is when you need to prepare! The recipe essentially starts by making a blueberry syrup base that you then add either yogurt, or sour cream, or crème fraîche to thicken. So you can buy a ton of blueberries now while they're super cheap and at the peak of flavor, make the syrup base, freeze it in small containers till needed, then pull one out and add your thickener of choice.

Blueberry Soup:scale recipe as desired.
2 pts. blueberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
yogurt/sour cream/crème fraîche (amount can vary to taste)
  1. Wash and remove any stems from the bluerries. Heat the water, sugar, and spices in a medium saucepan till boiling. Add in the blueberries and cook over medium high heat till the blueberries have broken down and the liquid is a dark purple color, ~5-8 minutes.
  2. Very carefully transfer some of the blueberry liquid to a blender and process until smooth, or use an immersion blender if you have one. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean container and either freeze if you plan to store or put in the fridge for sooner usage.
  3. To make the final soup, mix about 1 part blueberry base with 1 part thickener of choice. I prefer using a 1 to 0.75 mix of base to vanilla yogurt, but feel free to experiment to get the consistency and taste you prefer.

Hooray for blueberries! $1/pint, sign me up!!

The final product as I prefer to serve it. Not too thick, not to thin, but loaded with blueberry flavor.

So, there you have it. My not very secret tip for surviving the dreaded mid-winter fruit depression. With a little bit of planning (seriously little) and a smidgen of effort, you can enjoy the wonderful taste of blueberries in the middle of that snowstorm that will be dropping 8" of snow come January (note, I claim no responsibility if that actually happens). And don't worry, you can still have your regular heart-warming chicken noodle or beef stew, this actually works great as a dessert in lieu of ice cream (I know, sounds treasonous, but it is). So, take advantage now while blueberries are still in season to stock up, and don't forget to freeze some on baking sheets for use in baked goods too!

Mike :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cajun shrimp

A few days earlier than I promised, but hey, that can't be a bad thing now can it? Anywho, this is part two of my quick and easy seafood recipe set. Shrimp are notoriously quick and easy to cook, and make for a great middle of the week dinner when you don't have a lot of time. The problem with most shrimp in general, through, is that they're a little bland with out something else to provide the flavor. Coming from the Chesapeake Bay area, that usually means boiling them in a pot of water and vinegar with a bunch of old bay. There's the cold shrimp cocktail, but that always seems passé. Adding shrimp to pasta or stir fry is quick, but means the shrimp are no longer the star players. So I was happy that while watching Food Network one day, I saw something very similar to this recipe.

I call it cajun shrimp, because I use a good amount of heat and butter, but there's really no provenance beyond that. It is yummy though. Served over a bed of rice and it makes a tidy little meal when combined with a salad.

Cajun shrimp:
1 lb. shrimp
1 stick butter, room temp.
1.5 tsp chili pepper
1 tsp. tabasco
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. old bay
  1. Put the butter and spices in a bowl or your food processor and combine thoroughly. This can be made well ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the fridge. Wash the shrimp and remove the shells, leaving the tails on.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium hight heat and add at least half of the butter. When the butter is completely melted and begins to bubble, add the shrimp and coat thoroughly. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of you pan how tight everything is.
  3. Lay over fresh rice and enjoy with an ice cold beer and some bread (with this amount of heat, you'll need those).

It looks a bit like chicken doesn't it, but its the seasoned compound butter.

Shrimp in the pan, before being tossed to coat.

The end product, all seasoned and buttery.

Those of you who would normally butter your rice obviously need not do so with this recipe. There's more than enough carryover to season the rice with some rich and spicy flavor. As I noted in the recipe, although you have a starch with the rice, you'll probably want some extra bread to help deal with the heat. True, you could use less chili powder and tabasco, but what's the fun in that?

Look for another update some time late next week (possibly next weekend),

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Moules Frites (Mussels with French Fries)

The first of a two parter on rather quick and easy seafood dishes:

Moules frites, or mussels with french fries for those who either don't speak French or think its too fancy sounding, is a rather simple dish of mussels in a broth of various concoction with a nice accompaniment of freshly made french fries. The broth has nearly endless possibilities as far as the ingredients go, but the number of ingredients is generally kept to as few as possible. Some form of alcohol (generally white wine) and some aromatics form the base flavor, which you generally want to keep somewhat light so you don't overwhelm the mussels (although for those of you who aren't seafood fans, that may be the whole point). Having said that, I decided to go a bit daring and work up a spicy/lemony curry flavor with some basil, hoping it wouldn't be too strong. I've been growing some lemon balm with the idea of using it in a home made soda at some point, but as I was clipping some leaves off one of my basil plants I thought what the heck and used the lemon balm in place of lemon juice. The result was actually much better than I was expecting, and I just wish I had some bread to mop up some of the broth (the french fries aren't great at that).

Curried Mussels:
2 lb. mussels, cleaned
1 can coconut milk
1 cup white wine (or belgian white beer)
1 tbsp. curry paste (or see below)
handful of basil and lemon balm leaves
  1. Put a large pot over medium high heat and add the curry paste and wine/beer. Mix and bring so a low boil (it shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes).
  2. Let the curry/alcohol mix reduce a little and then add the coconut milk. Bring to a full boil and then add the mussels.
  3. Coat all of the mussels well with the broth and cover for ~5 minutes to get them steamed open. Add the basil and lemon balm leaves and turn the mussels in the broth for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Transfer the mussels to a bowl and ladle some of the broth over top. Serve with french fries, and preferably a small bowl of broth with some bread for dipping.

French fries:
2 large russet potatoes
big pot of oil
salt for seasoning
  1. Begin heating the oil to 325F. Wash and peel the potatoes and then cut them into ~1/4 inch thick strips. Put the strips into a bowl of water and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain off the starchy water and pat the strips dry.
  2. When the oil is at 325, add small batches of the strips to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. They should come out pale yellow and become limp when they cool. Repeat until all the strips are done and cool them all to room temperature.
  3. The second frying makes them crispy and delicious, so bump the temperature of the oil to 375F. Again, work in small batches, frying to golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and toss. Remove these to a paper towel lines tray and finish off the rest of the batch.

My home made curry paste, curry powder and sriracha.

Basil on the left, lemon balm on the right.

The mussels before being eaten...

The accompanying fries.

Now, if I wanted to do this traditionally, I'd have made some sort of mayonnaise, but that wouldn't have paired well with the mussels in my opinion, so its been left out. The mussels had a great, subtle flavor from the broth but still tasted like mussels (again, a plus for me, some may disagree). My only regret is that I didn't have some bread to mop up some of the broth, but hey, now we all know.

Stay tuned for part two of my quick and easy seafood dinner series next week (probably Wednesday).
Mike :)