Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dinner for One

When I'm on my own for dinner, I always have a silent debate with myself: cook and deal with the dishes and cleanup or take the easy road and order takeout. Tonight, my inner cook won out and I went straight to my go-to dinner for one — pasta. I don't know that I've ever met a pasta dish I didn't like. Simple or fancied up, it's one of the easiest and most satisfying things you can make.

I went to Publix and wandered the produce aisle for inspiration and my eyes landed on some bright green asparagus. I wanted shallots, but there were none, so a Vidalia onion went in the basket. Goat cheese with fine herbs and some "fresh" (soft, refrigerated) fettucine completed my shopping spree.

At home, I thought some herbes de Provence (a dried blend of rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay, thyme, and sometimes lavender), pine nuts and lemon zest might round out the dish. I was right. It was creamy, fresh and satisfying...a perfect meal for one. (Though it would easily double.)

Fettucine with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
serves 1
1/4 pound fettucine
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Half a small onion or 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
10 asparagus spears
10 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 to 2 ounces soft goat cheese

Cook fettucine per package instructions. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion or shallot, a pinch of salt and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring, until onions are opaque and tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add in asparagus and pepper, and cook until asparagus are bright green and tender and the onions are golden in places. If skillet seems dry, sprinkle with a bit of water.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast pine nuts until golden and fragrant. Set aside.

When pasta is done, drain and add to skillet and add a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with the lemon zest, add goat cheese to taste and toss. Top with toasted pine nuts and serve.

My New Buzz

I'm a coffee drinker from way back. I love a
cafe au lait in the morning and iced latte in the afternoon. But I discovered something that's giving my old love a run for its money. My new favorite buzz-worthy drink is a South American tea called Yerba Mate (pronounced 'mah-tay').

It's the national drink of Uruguay and Argentina and has been drunk for centuries all over South America. Traditionally imbibed through a metal straw (called a
bombilla) from a hollow gourd, it's shared family-style at gatherings and special events. When I was in Ecuador last fall, I saw instant yerba mate powder in a grocery store and on the shelf of a guinea pig farmer's kitchen. My Argentinian friend Vanessa's mom drinks it several times a day and swears it's the source of her boundless energy.

It just may be, because it has caffeine but doesn't cause jitters like the caffeine in coffee or regular tea, which is great. It's also considered a cure-all in South America (though I haven't seen any magic healing effects thus far) and it contains a bunch of antioxidants — even more than green tea.

The flavor is hard to describe. It's herbal and grassy, kind of smoky, and maybe it's just my overactive imagination, but it tastes almost ancient to me. My favorite way to drink it is in a "mate latte" with soy milk and honey. I've also had it iced — a company called Guayaki bottles it with fruit juice and also sells loose tea and tea bags.

I wouldn't say I'm a convert — I'll always be a coffee girl — but yerba mate is a definite keeper. If you enjoy herbal tea, give it a try...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Like a (French) Schoolgirl

I recently read about a classic children's snack from France: a sandwich of radishes on buttered bread. Though it may sound random to those of us who grew up eating Goldfish crackers or saltines and peanut butter, I thought it was such a fun idea for a little snack.

I love the peppery bite of radishes, and must admit that I'll eat anything made with butter. (When I was little, I'd sneak bites of cold butter from the stick when no one was looking.) There are beautiful radishes in the market now, so I decided to give it a try.

I had some dill in the refrigerator that only had a few good days left, so I softened the butter and mashed in some chopped dill and a bit of Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. With the cold, pinky-red radishes on fresh baguette from the 2nd Street Bakery, it was a simple, perfect combination. I think I'm in love.

Radishes with Herb Butter on Baguette
serves 1
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 radishes, sliced
4 slices fresh baguette

Combine butter, dill, salt and pepper. Spread mixture on bread, then top with radishes.

Simple Asian Supper

I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for marinades. I love the way the full-flavored ingredients translate into a tastier version of plain-old chicken (or shrimp or beef...) It's the easiest and simplest way to add tons of flavor and extra moisture and, at most, requires the use of a whisk or blender and a zip-top bag.

I've been on an Asian kick lately. Since wild American shrimp were on sale at the grocery store (I never buy any other kind), I decided to make a marinade that incorporates all of the Asian flavors I was craving.

I started with a little inspiration from a Bobby Flay marinade and then pared it down. Soy, lime zest and juice, ginger, garlic and shallots went into the blender with some peanut oil and voila! a perfect marinade was born. It tasted so good on its own I debated saving some to drizzle on the cooked shrimp, but then realized that would be taking my marinade-love a bit too far. The shrimp came out tender and full of flavor. I imagine the marinade would be delicious for a meaty fish like tuna or mahi, and might make for a tasty flank steak marinade, as well.

I thought a slaw-like salad would be a good accompaniment with the shrimp, so at the market, I picked up a head of Napa cabbage, a red bell pepper, a jalapeno and some cilantro. To dress, I made a simple, Thai-inspired peanut dressing. It was a light but satisfying dinner that came together pretty quickly.

Asian-style shrimp and slaw
Serves 2
For the shrimp:
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut oil
Zest and juice of one lime
1/2 pound of medium or large shrimp

Place everything except shrimp in a blender and puree. Pour marinade in a zip-top bag, place shrimp inside and put bag in refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat a large skillet over high heat. Remove shrimp from bag, shake off excess marinade, and sear, two minutes per side, or until shrimp are opaque.

For the slaw:
1/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Zest and juice of one lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 1-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Whisk together peanut butter, soy, lime zest and juice, vinegar, oil and ginger. If thick, add a tablespoon of water. Set aside. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds until light brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, peppers and cilantro, and add dressing until lightly coated. Garnish with sesame seeds.

To serve, mound a pile of slaw in a large bowl and top with shrimp.