Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rachel Alabiso's Shrimp Tacos

There is nothing in the world like next-door neighbors who pull you out of a slump...

I recently thought I was going to have to put my Marley boy down all of a sudden (I thought I had jinxed him by finally writing his book), and after all of the loss that we've had with our family and friends this past year, it was the straw that just kind-of did me in. I found myself slipping into a kind of soul-hibernation. That, and I sprained my foot, and Marley was put on major drugs—so I was holed up, anyway.

Well, the other night, our next-door neighbors, Annette and Justin, decided that I needed a break from the house and invited the three of us over for our long overdue Taco Night. They also invited over "the other Rachel" and Mike of our Thursday Night Crew.

To contribute to the dinner, Chef Reiton and I brought over some cookies (I came up with a lemon-pistachio baby that the girls gave a thumbs-up; I'll make them again and do a post later). Rachel and Mike, however, brought over the most delicious shrimp concoction for shrimp tacos that I have ever had. EVER.

Rachel Alabiso's amazing shrimp tacos recipe

I know, right?!??! And you know what I love? Rachel WINGED THE RECIPE. She thought about what flavors would taste great with shrimp—salt and black pepper, of course, with some garlic, ancho chile powder, cumin, paprika, and dried orange peel (she makes her own powder by peeling and drying just the orange part of the peel and then grinding it up).

Next, she peeled a couple pounds of fresh shrimp (fresh really does make a difference, if you can get it near you), sprinkled them with the above seasonings (no measuring, just eyeballing it) and then tossed it all to coat with a bit of frozen corn. She let the shrimp marinate and the corn thaw until we were ready to cook, and then she just sautéd the shrimp for a few minutes until they reached that perfect, just-pink curl, squeezing some lime over the whole thing when they were done and serving them on a banana leaf.

Can you say that a non-French food has je ne c'est quoi? The blend of seasonings was perfect. You couldn't figure out what made them so damn good. All you knew was that you could not stop eating them.

Sigh. Thank God for next-door girlfriends. I'd be turning into a potato by now. And I never would have experienced Rachel's shrimp tacos.

Cooking up Rachel Alabiso's shrimp tacos recipe

So, remember our lesson for today: DON'T BE AFRAID TO WING IT. If you don't feel like you are good at discerning what tastes good with what, go buy yourself a copy of The Flavor Bible. Believe me, it will change the way you cook. Recipe writing will suddenly be something you can do. Swears.

And now, I'm off. I've got some oranges to peel...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Fast, Fake-o Caesar Salad Dressing

If you've read my blog over the years, you know that I am in chef-love with two people: John Besh (our honeymoon of foodies) and Mark Bittman. Either one of them I would fly five thousand miles to cook with and welcome into my kitchen any time. I imagine that sharing a kitchen with these guys would be relaxed, full of laughs and, yes, a major learning experience. But a good one.

Just this past week I made (yet again) Besh's chicken and sausage gumbo from his latest cookbook, Besh Big Easy. Even Marley, our dog, loves it. And Bittman? Bittman is the most popular reference book in our house. We crack open (and have given away) How to Cook Everything more times than I can count.

One of our go-to recipes of Bittman's is his Caesar salad. It's the real deal, with anchovies and lemon, coddled egg and big, fat croutons. The problem: it does take, like, 10 minutes of forethought to make it (coddling the egg, not to mention the croutons), and the other night, I didn't have an extra 10 minutes. I needed to throw everything in a jar, shake it up, and be done. Company was coming.

So I cheated—big time. Yes, I used romaine lettuce and lots of finely grated (with a pinhole grater) Parmesan cheese, but no croutons. And the dressing? This is what I threw together:
  • 1/2 tsp. oil from an anchovy tin (if I had time, I would have minced up an anchovy, but I didn't)
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • juice from 1/2 a large lemon
  • 2 Tblsp. champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
I shook that like crazy in a jar, and voila! Fake-o and fast Caesar dressing—liked so much by my guest that I was asked for the recipe, so here you are!

Things I think I would try next time, continuing in super-fast, cheater fashion: add a bit of garlic powder to get a bit of that garlicky flavor in there. And maybe a couple drops of Worcestershire sauce to add a little depth. Bittman puts that in his Caesar dressing, and I think that's why. 

Speaking of salad dressings, if you want to nix another item from your shopping list because 1) it's full of crap and 2) it's a total waste of money, make it salad dressing. Spend the money, instead, on a variety of different vinegars (balsamic, red wine, white wine, champagne, rice wine, apple cider) and some Californian olive oil (don't buy Italian unless from a trusted source; you aren't guaranteed to be actually getting what you think you are buying) and make your own at home. Dressings are generally about 3 parts oil to 1 part acid plus a little bit of an emulsifier, like Dijon mustard, egg, honey, mayo...then seasonings. Even drizzling your salad with olive oil, tossing, then drizzling with a little vinegar, and tossing again is shockingly good. My Grandma Paola taught me that.

And something else I have learned to do that really makes a difference with salad: salt it, don't just pepper it. I actually take a pinch of kosher salt and give my salad a decent sprinkle before I toss it. It's amazing how it really brings out the flavors of the dressing and whatever you've got in the salad. Give it a try. I think you'll like it. 

So! Screw bottled salad dressing! Print the recipe below, and the next pizza or lasagna night you have where you find yourself suddenly scrambling for a green salad, chop up some romaine, grate or shave on some Parmesan cheese and throw this dressing together for a last-minute Caesar; I think you will find it's a pleaser!


Easy, Fast, Fake-o Caesar Salad Dressing

 Recipe card for Fast, Fake-o Caesar Salad Dressing

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