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Festive Summer Supper

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Check out this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook called School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. “Mediterranean Shrimp with Feta, Olives, &  Oregano” has a few things going for it:

  • Healthy.
  • Good for company, good for the fam.
  • Mostly assembly and one dish, plus a sauce pan of couscous.
  • Shrimp! Olives! Feta! Yum!
  • Fresh herbs! But dried oregano works too.
  • I made it for my dad on Father’s Day. Good vibes. Make it for someone you love.

Materials

  • Colander
  • Sheet pan
  • Paper towels or cling wrap
  • Medium saucepan
  • Fork (for fluffing couscous)
  • Deep casserole dish
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Serving bowls

Ingredients

  • Box of couscous
  • Butter and kosher salt
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp
  • Pitted kalamata olives, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried oregano

Instructions

  • Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge for a few hours in a colander on a sheet pan with cling wrap or paper towels draped over the top. Bring them to room temp and get rid of any ice crystals by running the colander under warm water at intervals and patting the shrimp dry as you make the couscous.
  • Make a box of couscous, following the directions on the package. I went ahead with a pad of butter and several pinches of salt, as called for my box. (The cookbook calls for Israeli couscous rather than the instant kind. I confess I’ve never made Israeli couscous, so you’ll have to comment if I’m missing out. The instant kind was yummy too).
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse, dry, and chop the tomatoes, placing them in the bottom of your casserole dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well with your hands.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Check to make sure the shrimp is thawed. (The cookbook calls for raw, deveined shrimp but medium frozen ones cooked at the same temperature for the same time worked just as well).
  • Layer the cooked tomatoes with shrimp, olives, feta, and oregano. (The cookbook recipe calls for a half cup of both olives and feta, but I recommend more of each. Serve the remaining olives as an hors d’oeurve, or nibble while you’re cooking. Point is — jar should be consumed, some way or another.)
  • Bake 12 minutes. Drizzle the cooked casserole dish with olive oil and serve atop the warm couscous.

Serve with this simple, healthy Rachel Ray tomato, cucumber, red onion chopped salad if you want to round out the plate.

And finally, to end your summer meal, a berry pie. I adapted Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie by substituting a pound of blueberries for the rhubarb, since zero out of three of my local grocery stores were selling rhubarb in June. (Wha??)

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I also substituted half the lemon juice for orange juice, and added some orange zest and lemon zest to the filling.

Instead of pecans, I used store bought roasted, salted almonds for the crumb topping. But don’t make my mistake — thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and this is key — before you add the nuts — otherwise you’ll end up with sections of raw, unbrowned flour on the top of your pie.

As for the crust, cold ingredients are key — dice the butter and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and keep the buttermilk refrigerated until you use it. This hand-mixed, buttermilk-congealed pie crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The buttermilk really helps things come together to form a smooth dough.

I made two pies — for Clark, and for Patrick, my father and my father-in-law — and I learned these helpful hints about freezing a pie from The Kitchn. Long story short, if you tightly wrap and freeze an unbaked pie, the juices from the berries won’t make the crust soggy when you eventually bake it. So freeze pies unbaked. Enjoy 🙂

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Happy Father’s Day + Eating My Words

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I have recently been obsessed with bar cookie versions of more elaborate celebration cakes, e.g., red velvet cake bars or better yet, dulce de leche cheesecake bars. They have the cuteness factor of cupcakes, but more conveniently, they are made in one big pan.

For example, these dulce de leche cheesecake bars would have been perfect for my mentee’s birthday. What did I end up giving her? A card/hershey bar from CVS… I guess I’m holding out for her half-birthday?

Then I attended a going away party for my department head. Old habits die hard, along with my fantasy of casually elegant cheese cake bars. This time I stalked the net for something with a key lime twist. Predictably, Smitten Kitchen yielded cute eye candy, this time individual key lime cheesecakes made in cupcake tins. Eye candy it remained.

So I recycled these pecan shortbread cookies I hadn’t already eaten. (Less cute, but definitely worth making.)

Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I have now moved on to the idea of german chocolate cake bars, in honor of my dad’s favorite dessert. Oh, and the internet provides! In good faith, I even looked up how to properly package and mail homemade baked goods. Yet here I sit, typing words onto a screen, having typed grades and unit plans and e-mails onto a screen the entire day, because I’ve learned that food feels most like love when it is happily prepared, and dad, I think I hatched this idea a little too late. (My mixer has lately been erratic and I think I might end up crabby and covered in flour.)

There is a better writer than me, Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon, who describes this habit of spending inordinate mental energy imagining and planning meals, to the point that eating them is secondary. In a word, he characterizes it as French:

of all the leçons de choses I have absorbed in Paris, the most important has come from learning to cook. I cooked a bit in New York, Thanksgiving dinner and a filet mignon or two, and summers by the grill, like every American guy. But here I cook compulsively, obsessively, waking up with a plat in mind, balancing it with wine and side dishes throughout the working day (‘Do I dare pack a Brussels sprout?’) shopping, anticipating six o’ clock, waiting for the perfectly happy moment when I can begin, as one almost always does, no matter what one is cooking, by chopping onions.”

He goes on… and on… and one more time on…

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 2.17.12 PM“The beautiful part of cooking lies in the repetition, living the same principles, day after day: planning, shopping, chopping, roasting, eating, and then vowing, always, never again to start on something so ambitious again… until the dawn rises, with another dream of something else….

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 8.31.31 PM“Cooking, for middle-class, end-of-the-century people, is our only direct, not entirely debased line with the hermetic life, with Zen sitting, with just doing things without a thought. No wonder monks make good cheese…

alphabet soup kids pasta“Writing isn’t the transformation of stuff into things. It is just the transformation of symbols into other symbols, as if one read recipes out loud for dinner, changing the proportions… Writing is a business of saying things about stuff and saying things about things and then pretending that you have cooked one into the other…”

And yet, at the risk of sounding apologetic, and notwithstanding the fact that really delicious german chocolate bars trump esoteric thoughts about cooking, the words do count, I think.

Gopnik also writes about how French people have a  gift for abstraction, extrapolating on the minutiae of life and making it fodder for philosophical debate. In my mind, German chocolate cake symbolizes much more about my dad than his sweet tooth.

Favorite dessert? German chocolate cake. Career/calling? Architect. Hobby? Piano/organ. Bedtime ritual? Set out the cereal bowls for breakfast. My dad is predictable in great, very specific ways — he makes reliably tasty pancakes; he does not fancy breakfast for dinner…

But also in more abstract ways, including his stalwart qualities of being kind, insightful, upbeat, and taking a broad-minded and balanced view of all people and situations. Some people say that I am my father’s daughter. I wish my sweet tooth were more equally focused, along with a few other things, but I’ll take it 🙂

Here’s to a sweet Father’s day, in gratitude for all the world’s deserving dads.

[Photo Credits: “Cake, German Chocolate,” sea turtle’s photo stream and “Rows of Buddha,” shack’s photo stream]

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