Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

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“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**

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.

A little sweet….a little spicy….and great flavor!

First of all, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for those of you who reach out to say how much you enjoying reading my posts. I am by no means a professional cook (or have nearly the amount of experience Matt has in the kitchen), but I am still humbled by the positive feedback and for those of you who follow my Instagram and request recipes just by looking at a photo. So again, thank you and I will do my best to keep bringing you new and delicious recipes!

Now, I’m sure I have mentioned by now how Matt and I love our bacon-wrapped shrimp. (And for grilling season, it can only get better!) Shrimp is a fairly inexpensive protein (if you know how to look for a good sale–you can get 2 lbs. frozen raw shrimp for under $20!) and lends itself to some great flavor profiles. Matt and I normally go simple with this one: Old Bay seasoning (because when you live by the water, Old Bay is the go-to) and of course, bacon! And when you do use bacon, be sure to pound it out nice and thin….that way it’s easier to wrap and you can make it stretch a little bit–haha, get it? Stretch?

**And if you look in one of my prior recipes, I’ll even share how you make it!**

Still, we needed a sauce for dipping. Normally, there’s a pretty sizeable side dish that we add with the shrimp, so no sauce is needed….but we went rather simple with our side. Some diced avocado in lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper–therefore, sauce was necessary.

While it’s not always my favorite thing, I will say this: Matt is a pepper and hot sauce fanatic! If he can make it hot, he will. Me….I can’t eat spicy the way he can, but that’s not to say I won’t try to incorporate more heat into our dishes. (As long as I can control how much it will burn my face off, I’m okay.) Although, I am proud to say that more and more recently, I have been experimenting with peppers in our dishes (seeds removed, of course) and the results have been successful. Poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, green long hots….I’m working on it.

So it was no surprise when Matt suggested a honey sriracha dipping sauce, I was on board! I would say an accurate measurement of the honey v. sriracha ratio is 2 parts honey, 1 part sriracha. You can always adjust if you want it sweeter….or spicier. (And if you have never had sriracha, please know that a little goes a long way. Unless you’re Matt, who can douse so many things in sriracha.)

I stress this many times over: don’t be afraid to spice it up from time to time! (If you can handle a little bit of spice.) And if you’re wondering if it was delicious….well….I’ll let the picture speak for itself:

Enjoy!

~Jenny V

The Basics of a Great Sauce…and Gravy

Growing up with the Italian side of my family, knowing how to make a gravy is key.

Yes, gravy, which is a tomato-based sauce with a veritable cornucopia of meat and seasonings in it cooked over an entire day. And if you don’t think there’s a difference between sauce and gravy, you are sorely mistaken! Sauce has no meat in it, gravy does and various kinds, I might add. Trust me on this, cooking gravy is a process that changes the texture and flavor in the most delicious of ways. (You also don’t want my family to argue with you on the sauce v. gravy debate….really, you will not win.)

I also realize most of us associate gravy as being brown in color and used for such things as roasts and mashed potatoes. Really, don’t argue with an Italian who calls their sauce gravy. Just accept that this is truth and you’ll be fine. You can debate with someone who isn’t Italian. :::haha:::

But we’re getting off track here….today is sauce (because there’s no meat in it) and how to make the most basic of sauces.

Last night, Matt and I decided to make grilled shrimp with pasta…and wanted a nice red sauce, but had no pre-made jars of sauce to use. (I know, sacrilege, but we both work so sometimes a jar is a nice convenience when we don’t have the time to dedicate to making a full-fledged sauce.) But no matter, we had a can of tomato sauce, seasonings, and a little ingenuity. It’s not like we haven’t made a quick sauce before. And with seafood, we were able to get a little creative with at least one or two of the ingredients.

Every family has their own way of making their sauce, so I’m happy to say that this is ours. I stand by this version time and time again, and I hope you will too….or at least make your own variation. The true foundation of a great sauce or gravy are the ingredients you put into it…one of them must be love.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

P.S. – On a side note, seafood does not count as meat….this is still a sauce!


Jenn’s “Not Your Average” Sauce

28 oz. can tomato sauce

2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil (just a little bit)

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

1/2 Onion, diced

2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper (don’t need it, but this is my basic sauce and spice is nice)

1 tablespoon Basil (extra is always better)

1 teaspoon Sugar (oh yes, I’m not kidding–you need this one to make the salt flavor pop out more)

1 bay leaf (optional item, but definitely creates great flavor when added–just be sure to

1 can clam juice (this is optional, but if you are making seafood with your pasta, then you really can’t go wrong here)

Directions:

1) In cast-iron pot (or large pot) over medium-high heat, add in olive oil, allow to warm 1-2 minutes, then add in minced garlic and onion. Stir 2-3 minutes and allow aromatics to come out.

2) Add in remaining ingredients, bring up to a slight boil, then lower to simmer and cover with a splatter guard. Cook on medium-low for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with pasta (or whatever you like).

Bringin’ home the Bacon(-wrapped Shrimp!)

Over this past weekend, Matt & I celebrated what I consider our first milestone as husband and wife: the one-month anniversary. After over 6.5 years together before making it official, we still take pleasure in those simple moments by spending our time doing what we do best….cooking together. It’s a way we share our love with each other and with everyone in our life that is important to us. And last night was no exception! Why go out when we could whip up an extra special dinner in the comfort of our own home?

As evident by my previous post, we do love some shrimp in our house. Living by the beach, seafood is simply a staple in our diet. (Just you wait….we do love fish too and I have quite a few good recipes to share on that topic later.) Shrimp is just so easy to make and you can incorporate just a few simple ingredients to make it delicious….like bacon! If you have package of bacon, a griddle, and some patience, then you are going to love this recipe!

And what goes better with shrimp than homemade pasta? Ever since I acquired my KitchenAid pasta press attachment, courtesy of Matt’s Aunt Lori (and family), cooking with box pasta sometimes seems as daunting as eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Granted, in a pinch it works just fine, but if you have the time to sift flour and knead dough, I suggest rolling up your sleeves and giving it a go! (And no worries if you don’t have a pasta press or a KitchenAid, there are plenty of recipes online to make it without a pasta machine! But I do recommend this dough recipe, it’s perfect to use and you can adjust as needed.)

It’s a great meal that looks like restaurant quality, but won’t break your bank to make! When it comes to big celebrations in life, sometimes the best way to honor that moment is not to go out, but to stay in and savor the memory from the comfort of your own home….with a tasty meal, of course.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


baconwrappedshrimp

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Homemade Pasta

Ingredients:

4-6 slices of bacon

2 dozen raw frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled

Sauce:

1 lemon, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic (or 2-3 cloves)

1/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Cooking wine

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 teaspoons flour

Pasta Dough:

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

4 large eggs (Should be 7/8 cup. If it’s below, gradually add water until it is 7/8 cup)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

1) Start by pounding out bacon slices to make them a little thinner, then cut into pieces to wrap once around bacon. Place on skewer. Make it six shrimp to each skewer and set aside.

2) For pasta dough, in mixer using flat beater, add sifted flour and salt together, giving it a quick stir. Turn on lowest setting (Speed 2) and gradually add eggs and water until mixed, then switch flat beater to dough hook and mix on low for 2 minutes. Dough may be crumbly, but not too much. If it is super crumbly, gradually add water one tablespoon at a time until dough starts to form a ball. Remove and knead dough on wax paper or clean countertop until dough starts to get smooth and pliable, should be able to hold the shape of a ball. Break into walnut-sized balls for pasta press.

3) Start a pot to boil water. Attach pasta press attachment to KitchenAid and turn mixer to highest speed. Gradually place balls of pasta in press, using cutter on attachment to make strands of pasta as long or short as desired. Hang pasta on drying rack or on sheet pan lined with wax paper.

4) In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add butter and flour to make a roux, then add chicken broth, cooking wine, garlic, and lemon slices, bringing sauce to a boil, then lowering to simmer and cover.

5) On griddle pan over medium-high heat, place skewers of shrimp down, turning as bacon starts to brown and shrimp starts to turn pink, about 4-5 minutes. Once cooked through, remove from griddle and cover with foil on plate to keep warm.

6) Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt to pot and throw in pasta, stirring gradually until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Strain and return to pot, then add sauce over pasta and give a quick stir. Serve with shrimp on side.

Breaking out of the shell: Panko Edition

If there’s one item Matt and I have become almost addicted to when we’re food shopping….it’s frozen shrimp. Our supermarket charges this criminally inexpensive price every now and then, and we snatch it up and cram the delectable treat of the ocean into our overly-packed freezer! (Well, now it’s super packed…thank our wedding cake for that…if only we had more room!)

The best thing about frozen shrimp is you can do practically anything with it, especially if it’s raw and frozen. Of course, you’ll need to defrost and (in our usual prep work) peel the shrimp, but it’s super easy to work with (and so damn tasty.) And you can cook it so many different ways….if you need to know how, I recommend you watch Forrest Gump. (Little joke, sorry.)

Tonight’s recipe was actually one we attempted about a week ago, with “so-so” results: fried shrimp. (aka: it’s delicious, but how can we make it even better?) After our first attempt, it was determined that while regular bread crumbs are nice, panko would give us the desired crunchy texture that fried shrimp needs. (And as a bonus, I even made homemade cocktail sauce, courtesy of Food Network….which I will gladly share with you! Or if you want, their recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quick-cocktail-sauce-recipe.html) I’m a little sad there are no leftovers for work tomorrow, but it was a delicious idea. (One I hope to repeat again soon.)

Now, if you don’t have a deep fryer like Matt and I do, you can always fry shrimp in a regular frying or saute pan. Just be sure to put a healthy amount of oil in the pan and allow it to warm up on medium-high heat. Give that oil time to warm, otherwise, you won’t get a good crunch. (And make sure your room is well ventilated….last thing you need is the smoke alarm going off, something Matt and I are very used to hearing when we cook with high temperatures. Towel at the ready to fan away! Haha.)

Another great idea is breaking the shrimp up into small pieces, applying the same breading and making a variation of “popcorn shrimp”. Or maybe you want different seasonings? Again, don’t be afraid to add your own flair to this dish! The world is your oyster….or should I say, shrimp?

Haha, enjoy!

~ Jenny V


pankoshrimp

Panko-Fried Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

For the shrimp:

1 1/2 pounds of raw peeled shrimp

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 egg

1 cup panko bread crumbs

For the cocktail sauce: (Again, thank you Food Network!)

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons horseradish

Worcestershire sauce

1/2 to 1 lemon

Tabasco sauce

1) Pre-heat deep fryer to 350 degrees. In a plastic container with lid, put in shrimp and season with Old Bay, thoroughly coating the shrimp. Add flour, close lid, and give a good shake until shrimp are all lightly coated in flour.

2) Dredge shrimp in egg mixture, then place in another plastic container (with lid) in panko. Once all shrimp are in, close lid and give a good shake, coating each shrimp thoroughly. Place in deep fryer basket. (Now my trick is once I have the shrimp in the basket, holding the basket over a garbage can or a sink, dump residual bread crumbs on shrimp and give basket a good shake. This way, any shrimp needing extra breading gets some and you’re not making too much of a mess.)

3) Place basket in deep fryer and close lid. Cook for about 2-4 minutes. When shrimp looking dark golden brown, they’re done. (Shrimp take practically no time to cook, so watch them carefully.) Remove and place on a plate with a paper towel to cool.

4) In a small bowl, combine ketchup, horseradish, a dash of Worcestershire, lemon, a dash of Tabasco (and if you’re feeling adventurous, a few shakes of Old Bay Seasoning). Mix thoroughly and serve with shrimp.