Friday, January 29, 2010

garlic and lemon maine shrimp

maine shrimp over couscous
i have always been a horrible sleeper.
always. i have very vivid memories
of me, as an 8-year-old, getting
out of bed in the middle of the night,
wide-awake and looking for my father
who i knew would be downstairs,
also awake, playing computer
games. that's how i became so good
at tetris, so young.

i also have very vivid memories of me,
a freshman at college, not sleeping
at all - but not in the good way.
i would stay in my dorm room,
with my roommate sleeping one bed away
and wish that i could just sleep
like everyone else seemed to be able to do.

my problem has always been falling asleep.
once i did, though, i was out.

lately - even though, don't get me wrong,
many nights, i'm still awake way past when i
want to be - my biggest sleep problem is
actually staying asleep.

i wake up very early in the morning.
and that's it. i'm up.
or at the very least, i'm in that very
blurry awake-asleep stage where i'm
and it's all about work.
who needs that?

not me - and that's why at 4:19
this morning, as i was using sheer will
to coax myself back to sleep, but
instead kept remembering
three deadlines that i face today
when i get into work,
i decided to put this time to good
use and tell you about maine shrimp,
because i'm running out of time
on those, too.

maine shrimp, you see, are very
time-limited and it would be a shame
if i didn't write about them before
they are out of the markets and
you have to wait until next year.
so i have to tell you and get
rid of this guilt that it's taken me
so long - and maybe,
just maybe, it will help me sleep.
i can dream, right?

so anyway, the maine shrimp.

i have to admit that i'm a bit
of a shrimp snob. i like the big
ones, or at the very least, the almost
big ones. i'm not crazy about small
shrimp that curl up into bites of nothing
once they are cooked.

and so, even though i've spotted
very pink, small maine shrimp
in the market many times
over the past couple years, i've always
looked the other way. fool.

but, a couple weeks ago,
in the middle of grocery store,
i was offered one maine shrimp, raw.
i hesitated for a moment -
i love raw oysters, clams, fish
and now scallops, but to me, shrimp
always seemed like a seafood
better served cooked.

then the fishmonger told me that
these are the same shrimp that
are sold in sushi bars for $3,
two at a pop, over sushi rice.
he ate one, himself,
and i felt ridiculous and boring,
so i went for it.
the shrimp was amazing -
like nothing i ever had before:
sweet and buttery and what could
likely be a total addiction.
and they were $4.99 a pound.

that night, i brought six home
(they cost a little less than 50 cents)
and practically skipped in the house,
excited to reveal my find.
i peeled two, handed one to larry
and ate one myself.
yes, just as i remembered.
larry? not so into it.
he just could not get behind
the raw shrimp.
i was a little bummed.
peeled maine shrimp
but over the next week,
i started to research maine shrimp
and learned that they are only
available for a limited time each winter,
that in the northeast
(way in the northeast, we're talking
maine, massachusetts, rhode island -
not new york and new jersey),
people anxiously wait for them to
appear and that if cooked properly,
they are just as lovely.

and then, as i planned to pick up
a pound one night and i found a recipe,
a little bell went off in the back
of my head and i remembered why
maine shrimp carried an extra layer
of familiarity with them:
jen from last night's dinner had
referenced them (or, more specifically,
their stock) here, when she had cooked
my squid stew a couple months back.
(oh, and coincidentally, she made another
so then i knew this would be a very wise
$5 dollars spent:
dinner tonight,
stock for the future.
maine shrimp shells
when shrimp are so tiny,
a lot make up a pound and i was glad
when larry started peeling with me
(and i swear, i ate only one or two
in the process).
but once they were prepped, this
recipe from the washington post
came together very quickly.
in fact, the bulk of time was spent
waiting for the accompanying couscous
to cook.
maine shrimp, lemon zest, garlic
you zest a lemon,
chop a bunch of garlic,
crumble a dried chile.
the zest
and some of the garlic
are tossed with the raw shrimp
and then the remaining garlic
and the dried chile cook for
a few minutes in a bit of oil,
until they're sizzling.
that's when you add the shrimp,
immediately turn off the heat and toss.
and that's it.

and, cooked maine shrimp
are just as special as the raw.
they're lighter, but still sweet
and still buttery in texture.
larry, whose complaints vanished
once they were cooked,
said that they tasted like something
he couldn't quite identify,
similar enough to shrimp to be familiar,
but just different enough to stand out.

before the season runs out,
i hope to buy make stock
from the shells in the freezer,
buy another pound
and make maine shrimp risotto,
using both.

but for now,
i'm just glad the secret's out
(although it just occurred to me that
maybe i'm the only one who didn't
know about them before now):
maine shrimp are a lovely
limited-time treat.
if you see them, you should
get some and maybe even
cook them.

now that that's out -
one thing to cross
off my list -
maybe, i can go back
to sleep. i still have
an hour and a half before
i need to wake up.
unpeeled maine shrimp
garlic and lemon maine shrimp
adapted from the washington post
i would make this again, but i would double or triple the garlic and lemon, and instead of the dried chile, i would add a pinch or two of ground cayenne. i assume that the seasonings were kept on the light side so that the shrimp could really shine, but i like a lot more oomph in my food. oh, and on that note, the recipe doesn't say this, but i would absolutely finish the dish with a very big squeeze of lemon.

and, although i'm writing their version, below, i did make one change, which is reflected. instead of turning off the heat and then adding the shrimp, i added the shrimp and then turned off the heat. i know my stove and i knew that it would work better this way. oh, and the original recipe was for four, but i scaled it down to two (which is how i've written it).

i served the shrimp over lemony couscous, but they would also be great on their own, over a salad, on top of pasta or maybe, even with meat.

1 pound uncooked maine shrimp, peeled (they do not have to be deveined - and if you see any grey roe, just brush it away)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, plus 1 medium clove, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 dried chile pepper, crumbed (remove seeds and membrane for less heat) or a few pinches of ground cayenne

in bowl, combine shrimp, finely chopped garlic and lemon zest.

in large skillet, add oil to pan and heat over medium. as soon as the oil starts to make popping sounds, add the chopped garlic, salt to taste and the crumbled chili pepper. cook 2-3 minutes, or until the garlic sizzles and turns golden brown, stirring constantly.

add the shrimp; immediately turn off the heat. toss 1 minute, or until the shrimp are gently cooked. (if they seem like they need a little more cooking, turn the heat back on to medium and cook until heated through, stirring constantly.)

squeeze lemon over shrimp; toss to combine.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

black sesame marshmallows

black sesame marshmallows
weeks ago,
i was in h-mart,
our newest asian market find
(ok, it found us - the new store
opened its doors, a 1/2 mile
away from us, right around
the end of november).

i was buying sesame seeds
for lauren, when i saw the black
sesame seeds.
just like that,
i knew i had to have them.
because just like that,
i knew i was making
black sesame marshmallows.

it happens to me all the time:
i see something,
have an idea
and then become obsessed
until i make it work.

this time, though,
i had my doubts.
the whole car ride home -
yes, all 10 blocks -
i tossed questions larry's way:
do you think black sesame marshmallows
are a good idea? or a bad one,
and you're afraid to tell me?
how do you think i can get them to scream sesame?
do you think i can add sesame oil to the
marshmallow mixture without the entire
thing deflating? or will the droplets of sesame
oil rise to the surface? do you think the
sesame oil will make it bitter? are you excited
about sesame marshmallows?

the answers, were as follows:
i don't know.
i don't know.
brooke, i don't know.
i really don't know.

and, so, i knew i had to
get to the bottom of this myself.
i read through a book about marshmallows.
i searched high and low on the internet,
only learning that, if i wanted to,
i could buy marshmallow-scented oil,
i asked two friends with culinary backgrounds.
the second one said to me,
you know what i'm going to say.
and she was right,
the only way to truly know if i could
incorporate oil into marshmallows was
to try it for myself.

finally - last week - i decided to give it a go.
colleen, and her husband, christian,
were having a housewarming party for
their new beautiful home (more on this
soon) and i had already committed
to bringing another dish.
the day after we were going to a party
at larry's parents' house, and i had something
ready for them, as well.
read: if the marshmallows were a bust,
i would not panic, nor would i need to
run around like a lunatic looking for
something else to make.

i stuck with what i knew,
using my standard recipe.
as the sugar mixture came to a boil,
i prepared the pan,
measured out the seeds,
found the vanilla extract
and then finally,
stared down the sesame oil,
sitting boldly on the counter.
on the rise
somewhere in the back of my head,
i remembered that this was an experiment,
but let's be honest - i was not going to
be happy if they failed.
it was a friday night.
i was still dressed from work.
and my fingers were slightly grey from the seeds.
i was counting on this -
maybe not for colleen's party,
but for me.
i poured the hot liquid down
the side of the mixing bowl,
into the bloomed gelatin below,
and turned on the mixer.
i gave myself 12 minutes to watch
the beginning of the first episode
of project runway, willing myself
to not care about the end result -
it's just a recipe, which could be
tested 10 times before it goes right.
(i know - i've been there.)

when the marshmallows were good
and fluffy, i poured in the vanilla extract.
so far so good.
and then, i half closed my eyes,
added 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
and kept the mixer running for 30 seconds more.
the mixture looked exactly the same.
it worked!
quickly - oh, how quickly you have to work
with this sticky, sticky batter - i poured
everything into the pan, patted it down
and sprinkled the top with sesame seeds.
almost marshmallows
i grabbed a spoon
and sampled some renegade marshmallow
that had stuck to the mixer bowl.
it tasted like sesame. and larry agreed.
could it be that easy?
i guess so.

but, then, my mind wandered back
to the next step - coating.
usually, that's the step that's the most
messy. and the most fun.
you cut into shapes,
toss with a confectioners' sugar
mixture to make them stop sticking to
everything in site, and then you're done.

but this time -
i had made life considerably harder for myself.
earlier, i decided to only coat
the top with sesame seeds.
i figured that huge
black squares
would just not be so pretty.
and, it seemed kind of wrong to make something
so fluffy,
so crunchy.

and now that the top was
shiny and pretty and very dark,
i knew i had to keep them that way.
my first thought was this:
if i mixed them with ground sesame seeds,
they would stay dark all over,
but they wouldn't be as crunchy.

so i pulled out the spice grinder.
once powdered, their color was more of
a dark speckled brown. i tossed one
marshmallow in and it was clear that
this was not a workable method.
the ground sesame was clumping,
the marshmallow looked mottled
and, worse, they were still sticky.

i knew what i had to do -
there was no way to avoid it.
i added confectioners' sugar to
the ground sesame seeds, whisked
them together and then,
one by one,
coated the marshmallows,
making sure not to dunk
the sesame seed coated side
into the powder.

and it wasn't that bad.
sure, once i finished about five,
i realized that these would
be better in small bites,
and set to work quartering each,
so that instead of cutting and coating
25 squares, i cut and coated 100.
but they were the perfect size
and it just made sense.

i tried one.
and i knew that i loved them.
and larry gave them a thumb's up.
but, i still wasn't sure where the
popular vote would land.
i had two parties to find out.
and luckily, although they only
disappeared at colleen's,
they seemed successful at both -
twice prompting marshmallow conversations,
which makes me very, very happy.

because yes, so many times,
recipes need to be tweaked and played
with and perfected. but once in a while,
something just works.
and that?
is so, so nice.
cut marshmallows
black sesame marshmallows
sesame seeds can be expensive in a regular grocery store. if you have an asian market anywhere around you, head there to find them (mine were $2.99 for 8 ounces). the other great thing about buying sesame seeds from an asian market is that there, they're often sold already roasted. (can you imagine trying to roast black sesame seeds without burning them?) if you don't have a spice grinder, don't worry about adding the sesame to the confectioners' sugar coating - the addition does give the marshmallows one more level of sesame, but they'll survive without out it.

oh, and as always with marshmallows. make sure everything is ready to go - once you turn off the mixer, the marshmallows should be poured into the pan immediately.

1 cup water (plus more, if needed), divided
3 (.25 ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 large pinch table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
1/3-1/2 cup roasted black sesame seeds,
plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 cup confectioners' sugar

coat a 9" x 9" pan very well with a thin coating of neutral flavored oil or cooking spray.

pour 1/2 cup water into bowl of electric mixer; sprinkle gelatin evenly over water. (you don't want to play around too much with the liquid, but if a lot of the gelatin is dry, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon water over the gelatin to keep it from clumping and to help it bloom.)

in heavy saucepan (i used a 3-quart), combine remaining water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. set heat to low and cook until sugar has dissolved, stirring constantly. increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, without stirring. add thermometer and boil, without stirring, until the thermometer reaches 240˚f (soft-ball stage). remove from heat and let stand 30 seconds.

meanwhile, turn mixer to medium and break up gelatin. reduce speed to low. with mixer running, carefully pour hot sugar mixture in a steady stream down the side of the bowl. increase heat to high and beat 12-14 minutes, or until mixture is very thick (make sure your bowl is locked into place). reduce speed to low and pour in vanilla extract, then sesame oil. increase speed and beat 30 seconds more, or until combined.

immediately transfer marshmallow mixture to prepared pan. wet hands with cold water and smooth the top of the marshmallow. dry hands. sprinkle sesame seeds over top of marshmallow to cover, pressing lightly. let sit, uncovered, at least 2 hours.

to make coating and to coat:
in spice grinder, process remaining 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds until finely ground. in small bowl, whisk together ground seeds and confectioners' sugar.

using lightly oiled bench scraper (or you can coat the scraper with cooking spray), cut marshmallows into 100 squares, re-oiling bench scraper as needed. or, cut marshmallows into desired shape and size. add marshmallows, one or two pieces at a time, to confectioners' sugar mixture, coating every side except for the black sesame top. pat off excess sugar.

store marshmallows at room temperature in a sealed container.