“Tempuring” the perfect Tempura

When Matt and I do venture out to dinner to not cook (gasp!), we try to have meals that we cannot normally make. Why? Because if we know we make the dish at home, why go out and have it made for us? We can just as easily have it in the comfort of our home for much cheaper and with the ingredients we want to add.

This would include such cuisines as Seafood, Thai, Chinese (certain dishes), Japanese, and anywhere we choose for special occasions. Of course, add in the occasional pizza and seasonal trip to the Circus Drive-In (for a pizza burger, cheese hot dog, and the best onion rings ever) and you have our routine. (Also, maybe when there’s a weird window of hunger between one of Matt’s gigs and inability to go home to eat, we tend to bend our rules a little.)

As usual, off on a tangent, but let’s get back on this–out of all of these culinary mysteries, Japanese cooking has eluded us….until recently. While I won’t see Matt going for sushi any time soon (loves raw bar, dislikes sushi), we have attempted some delectable Japanese ventures like Panko-crusted chicken and a staple appetizer: Tempura Shrimp.

Yes, shrimp, our favorite seafood to keep in the house on hand. I feel like I could devote an entire chapter in a cookbook to shrimp, but the Tempura shrimp? My goodness, if you have not attempted this, you will think twice about ordering it once you’ve made it at home….or hate how the breading sticks to things. Either way, it leaves an impact.

Aside from now needing to brainstorm how to keep the batter from sticking to the fryer basket (probably just technique), in this recipe you may (will) need to add more water….just add gradually though, one teaspoon at a time. (Trust me on this, our first batter, while it made delicious tempura, was a bit soupy. You want sometime more like a thick pancake batter, because that batter needs to stick to whatever you want to fry.)

But the result has yielded just one more item we’re not ordering out, and one we can’t wait to try again with veggies on hand! (Another food group that I have gotten my husband to love and appreciate over time.) And for a quick meal, try it with ramen noodles and drizzle some teriyaki sauce into the broth. Shrimp Tempura soup is a revelation in itself….and rather inexpensive to make if you’re willing to be adventurous.

Sometimes the dishes we love the most when we go out can be the most fun to make at home. Be daring, try to find ways to go out less and less. Trust me, when you’re in control of the ingredients, the results can be quite delicious.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Tempura Shrimp

For the batter:

3/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup water (to start, then gradually add a teaspoon at a time to make consistency like thick pancake batter)

1 egg, slightly beaten

To be dipped in batter:

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Directions:

1) In a bowl, mix all dry ingredients together first, then add water and egg. Stir until smooth. (May need to add extra water to achieve smooth batter.)

2) Dredge shrimp through batter. Gently drop in fryer oil at 350-375 degrees  until golden brown on the outside and shrimp looks cooked through, no more than 5 minutes normally. (This can be done in batches to avoid crowding. Just make sure that you place the initial batch back in to warm them back up for at least 30 seconds.) Remove, place on paper towel to absorb excess oil, and serve with cocktail sauce or teriyaki sauce.

**Batter will be enough for 4 cups vegetables or 1 lb. fish or meat**

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Where has this soup “bean” all this time? (A bad joke/love story)

If there is one thing that I am known for aside from making delicious dessert items in my home….it is soup.

I absolutely adore soup as a meal, thanks in large to my Pop-Pop. He was a soup fan, which makes me think that’s where I get a little bit of my love from. My pop-pop was truly a character, in every sense of the word! He always had this special whistle that let me know he was there, which resulted in me practically tackling him for a hug. What can I say? I was seven years old and it wasn’t like I could visit him all the time. (Even though he passed away while I was in college over 10 years ago, I still sometimes wish I could hear that whistle one more time.)

For a huge portion of my childhood, my Pop-Pop and Grandma Gloria resided in Ohio, which meant several road trips and plane rides to visit them at their apartment in Boardman. Out there, since it was mostly during the summer, there were Fourth of July parties, pool time with the children (and grandchildren) of my grandparent’s friends, walks around the golf course (that was on the other side of the trees in the communal yard), playing in the yard with their landlord’s maltese Benz, and my pop-pop teaching me how to swing a golf club….sometimes swearing up a storm if I hit him with the light plastic golf ball by accident. (He kinda had a colorful way with words.)

But also meant that when my grandparents came to New Jersey, their presence was a large family affair! He would take me to the diner to visit my Aunt Annie, come to my softball games/dance recitals/concerts, and on certain occasions, he would take me to the store to pick out a toy of my choosing. Some of those nights at my Aunt Annie’s house (where they would stay during their visit) with cake and coffee were my favorites, because my pop-pop was there and the family was all together. But that’s another story (or twenty) for another day. Anyway….back to soup!

Yes, my pop-pop loved soup and in turn, I came to love it as well. What’s not to love? Tasty ingredients like pasta, veggies, beans, sometimes meat….in a perfect vehicle of salty, flavorful broth. So I guess in part, my Pop-Pop was my inspiration for creating this meal (with no recipe, mind you): what I felt was the perfect White Bean Soup. And if you have never had Cannellini beans, you are missing out on a healthy (and delicious) protein to add to your meals.

The trick for a great soup really does rely on the broth, so make sure that you flavor your broth well. Aside from salt, pepper, and the various seasonings, I always prefer to start with a diced onion, some minced garlic, and a little cooking wine to really amp up the flavor profile.

Some of my favorite recipes are the ones that come from a place of love. Food isn’t just a necessity, it’s a gift to be shared. And feeling the inspiration to create new recipes from that love? Simply beautiful.

Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


White Bean Soup a la Love

1 can cannellini beans

1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly

1 medium onion, diced

4-6 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 bottle Sherry cooking wine

1 medium tomato, diced

1 cup tubettini pasta (optional)

1 tablespoon salt (can add more if needed)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

1) In a saute pan on medium-high heat, drizzle in olive oil to coat the pan, then add the diced onion. When the onion starts to become a little more translucent, add in minced garlic and fennel, stir and saute for 5-7 minutes to allow time for flavors to meld and fennel to cook, then add 1/2 bottle of Sherry cooking wine and bring mixture up to a boil. Once the liquid starts to evaporate a little, remove from heat and spoon mixture into slow-cooker.

2) Into slow-cooker with mixture, add in chicken broth, water, remainder of Sherry, tomato, and seasonings. Give a good stir to incorporate all ingredients, then cook on low for 7 hours or on high for 3 hours, dropping to low for one more hour.

3) An hour and a half before finishing cook time, add in beans (rinse before adding). 15-20 minutes before finishing, add in tubettini. Serve with grated parmesan.

Zuppa di Pesce: the gift that keeps on being delicious

As a rule in our house, Matt and I decided that instead of spending money on each other’s birthdays on fancy presents, that our cooking skills be put to the test and we cook for one another. While both of us will end up in the kitchen, I love the idea that the other has to help bring this meal to fruition. It has made celebrating our birthday a much more delicious venture and a great gift idea!

In fact, we try to adhere to this rule for most holidays/special occasions. (Although I am fairly certain Matt will not always adhere to that rule and has gotten me something a little extra to go with my nice meal. He’s sweet like that.)

Last year for my 31st, I requested a steak (any cut as long as it was nicely marbled upon purchase), homemade macaroni and cheese, and oven-roasted brussel sprouts. I don’t think I need to say that my loving husband delivered a fantastic meal! For his 34th, he asked me for a seafood dish, to which I came up with Zuppa di Pesce. (And to those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s seafood in a nice tomato broth….any seafood you choose to put in there. Or, you know, that fish soup.) Add in homemade pasta and a nice loaf of crusty French bread, Matt was in seafood heaven.

(And after this past weekend, where Matt’s mom also got to experience the awesomeness of our Zuppa di Pesce, I’d say it’s time this recipe was shared!)

Since then, the need to continue perfecting our Zuppa di Pesce became a bit of a game. We tried different combinations of seafood. Sometimes there would be clams, other times bay scallops, maybe even a couple nice pieces of cod would make it in there, complete with the staple of shrimp at the ready. To be honest, I don’t think we have made this dish the same way twice, but that’s the beauty of a giant mixed seafood dish–you can always play with the combination depending on what’s on sale!

Also, remembering how I have talked about stock…why not a seafood stock? Trust me, it’s super easy to make and you can do it with the one thing that most of us dislike when we have to peel shrimp….the shells! Since Matt and I always buy raw frozen shrimp, when it comes time to defrost and peel for the meal we’re using it in, I save the shells in a Ziploc bag and once I accumulate a HUGE bag of them, in they go to a pot of boiling water for 20-30 minutes, allow it to cool, then strain into a Tupperware container and voila–stock!

If you don’t have stock, use clam juice or even fresh clams and mussels in the recipe; adding something with those briny, salty juices of the sea will make the dish, I promise!

Also, cooking with wine is key! If you don’t have a lot of stock or clam juice available, add a little extra white wine instead.

For this version of the recipe, I figured adding the whole gambit of seafood would help. You can always add or take away with the seafood. Just be sure to have some fun with it. (i.e., calamari, sea scallops, prawns, flounder, etc.–get creative!)

When cooking is your gift, it’s always nice to share it with those dear to you. Because instead of trinkets throughout the years, you get these wonderful memories of delicious dishes and the moments that accompany the meal.

Enjoy (with love).

~ Jenny V


Matt and Jenn’s Zuppa di Pesce

1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 dozen clams, cleaned

1 lb. bay scallops, rinsed

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

 2 cups white wine

2-3 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1-2 teaspoons Salt

1-2 teaspoons Pepper

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

1/2 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

1) In large cast-iron pot or large stock pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil to lightly coat bottom, then add diced onion. Once onion starts to soften, add in minced garlic. Cook both until softened and aromatics are released, probably about 5 minutes at most.

2) Add in cooking wine and bring pot up to medium-high heat to allow alcohol to cook out, roughly 10 minutes. Next, add in almost all of the seafood stock, can of tomato sauce, and seasonings. (To get the residual tomato sauce out of the can, use the reserved stock by pouring it in and swishing it around in the can, then pour into the pot.) Allow mixture time to meld and cook, about 15-20 minutes. (Note: if you’re making pasta, start the water around this step, probably about mid-way.)

3) Put in clams and mussels first as they will need the most time to cook and open up. When clams and mussels look like they’re starting to open up, add in shrimp and scallops to cook the last few minutes. Once shrimp is cooked through, serve with pasta, really good crusty bread, or both.