Baked Coconut Shrimp

Last night it was V-Day so I made coconut shrimp for my husband.  I’d never made them before, but it was very simple.  You just take peeled shrimp, cover it with sweetened shredded coconut, place them on a lightly greased baking sheet and cook in a preheated 400F oven for about 15 minutes (for medium shrimp), flipping once.

It’s somehow tricky to attach the shredded coconut to the shrimp.  It just falls off.  I tried putting the coconut directly on the shrimp, coating the shrimp with mango sauce or egg whites, and then dipping it on the coconut, and doing so after dusting the shrimp with cornstarch.  They all worked equally world, and Mike couldn’t tell the difference between them flavor wise.

I made a mango sauce to go with the shrimp, but Mike preferred them without it.

 


Broiled polenta

I have to admit it: I’m not a polenta fan.  Indeed, for a great part of my life I had a huge love-hate relationship with polenta.  I associate polenta with my grandfather Tito, who may have very well eaten it every day of his life until the day he died.  I spent a lot of time at his home as a little kid and ate a lot of polenta.  I remember it being hard and dry and completely tasteless, only made edible by adding copious quantities of queso mantecoso (then again, anything with queso mantecoso is going to taste great).  After my grandfather died I don’t think I ever ate it again –  until something by the same name became popular in posh restaurants in the 90’s.  Those versions of polenta were creamy and tasty and for years I’ve been thinking of trying to imitate them.  Part of the reason why I haven’t is that, all in all, polenta is cheap food and very caloric (in Argentina,  to have “polenta” means to be strong) but not particularly nutritious.  In any case, a couple of days ago I was looking for a recipe to make with Italian sausage and came across this one.  It asked for store bought pre-made polenta, but they didn’t have any at Grocery Outlet and I didn’t want to trek to the supermarket so I decided to make the polenta myself.  I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe because it didn’t require constant stirring for 40 minutes and the results was a creamy polenta with a nice texture that tasted absolutely horrible.  It was a bit too salty (I’m reducing salt from 1 tsp to 3/4 tsp in the recipe below) but the real problem was the taste of the polenta itself.  Next time I make it I’ll use a recipe that includes milk and other flavoring agents.

  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup polenta or corn meal
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring water  and salt to a boil.  Slowly whisk in the polenta.  Whisk constantly for four minutes over medium heat. Bring heat down to very low, cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Uncover and whisk for one full minute. Repeat three more times (until the polenta has cooked for about 45 minutes) and pour into a greased 8×8 glass pan.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or up to 2 days.

Pre-heat broiler.  Unmold polenta and cut it into serving pieces.  Place polenta slices onto lightly oiled baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes. Turn, sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and broil for an additional 5 minutes.  Serve.

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Gas Grilling Baby Back Ribs

Yesterday I got some pork loin backribs (aka baby back ribs) at the supermarket. I had never made them before so I had to look up how to cook them. The method I found worked perfectly and resulted in fall-off-the-bone delicious baby back ribs. The rub I used, however, wasn’t that great so I’ll try a different one next time. This method starts with brining the ribs: baby back ribs have little fat and can get tough if not brined. This process takes at least six hours.

I was a bit surprised at how expensive the baby back ribs were. The full rack, on sale, was almost $15. For that price you can get them already cooked at Chili’s!

METHOD

1 – Put the ribs in a large, deep container and cover with 4 qts of water, 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

2 – Remove the ribs from the brine solution and discard solution. Dry the ribs and rub dry rub of your choice on both sides. Return to the refrigerator and let rest for at least 1/2 hour or up to 8 hours.

3 – Remove ribs from fridge and let stand at room temperature for about 1/2 hour before grilling.

4 – Preheat grill to high for 15 – 20 minutes, covered.

5 – Turn off one of the grill burners and set the other one on medium.

6 – Place baby back ribs (your may have to cut one rack in half) over the off-section of the grill. Cover.

7 – Grill for 3 1/2 hours, turning every 1/2 hour.

8 – Baste the baby back ribs with BBQ sauce on the meaty side and grill for an additional 20 minutes.

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Mashed Potatoes

A couple of days ago I made mashed potatoes to go with the short ribs I was serving for dinners (you have to have mashed potatoes if you serve short ribs!). Usually, I follow a very good recipe for buttermilk mashed potatoes from the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. This time, however, I didn’t have either buttermilk or cream, so I had to use regular 1% milk and butter. No matter, the mashed potatoes were phenomenal. The kids couldn’t eat them fast enough. And really, given how much fat they had, no wonder! Still, if what you want are really good mashed potatoes, this is the way to do it. Now, don’t forget to warm up the milk and butter!

  • 2 or 3 large russet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 4 Tbsp. semi-melted butter
  • more salt

Put salted water to boil.  Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cut them into large chunks.  Drop into boiling water and cook until very soft.  Drain and put in a large bowl.  Mash with a potato masher. Add milk, butter and salt to taste (taste first!).  Whip on the lowest setting of an electric mixer until they’re as fluffy as you like them, be careful to not overmix.  Taste again and serve.
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Frozen Banana Leaves

Yesterday I made a dish that required cooking in banana leaves, so I looked up exactly how to do it.  It was fairly easy.

You can buy frozen banana leaves at Asian and Latin markets in the US.  They are usually in the same area where they have other wrappings (eggroll skins, empanada shells, etc.).  Each package seems to have one leaf, but these are huge so you probably won’t need more than one.  They cost about $1-$1.50.  After you buy it, keep the banana leaf frozen until ready to use.

When you’re ready for it, boil water in a wide saute pan or similar.  Take the banana leaf out of the package and put it in the pan – if it doesn’t fit (and it won’t, unless you have a HUGE pan, just put one side of it, and keep moving it until the whole thing defrosts.  Alternatively, if you have a large enough pan to fit the banana leaf, just pour boiling water on it and keep it there until it defrosts.  You want the banana leaf to be flexible.

Cut off the center rib of the leaf with a knife and discard.

Then tear the leaf into sections large enough to roll your packet in.  Make it be about 5-6 times as large as the food you put inside it.  Then roll it like you would a burrito: roll it once, fold in the top and bottom corners and continue rolling it.  Secure it with kitchen string.

Fish cooked in Banana Leaves


Beef Back Ribs

Beef back ribs are often on sale at Safeway. I’ve never gotten them before because they are sold “previously frozen” (though not actually defrosted), and I tend to stay away from frozen beef, as freezing interferes with texture.  But I finally decided to give them a try.  I  cooked them by separating them into chunks of 2-3 ribs, rubbing them with a mixture of garlic & onion powder, salt and pepper and baking them, covered with foil, in a 375F oven for 2 hours.  I then uncovered them, basted them with BBQ sauce, and meant to cook them for another hour.  Well, the BBQ sauce was already burning after I checked on them 1/2 hour into the cooking so I took them out.

The ribs tested fine (despite the BBQ sauce burning), and they were tender enough (not overly so), but there was too little meat and too much fat in the huge bones. Even at $1.70 lb, it wasn’t probably a great deal given how much actual food you got out of them.  I don’t think I’d buy them again.


Peeling Chayote squash

Mika wanted squash soup for dinner the other night and chayotes were on sale, so I figured why not give them a try? I found this recipe at epicurious.com, which got great reviews, and without much consideration I decided to make it. It wasn’t my thing in particular – then again, soup never is – but it did introduce me to this vegetable.
As I was preparing to make the soup, I found out that peeling chayotes can be a bit of a challenge. Chayotes have a white, milky substance inside that can be profoundly irritant to skin. Some people complain of prolonged itching and even peeling. That was definitely not something I was looking forward to. Fortunately I also run into a method for avoiding this problem (described below). Now, I can’t say whether the method per se works, or whether chayotes just don’t irritate my skin, but in any case, I was able to peel them without any negative repercussions.
HOW TO PEEL CHAYOTES
From a Chowhound posting
Cut the chayotes in side along the longest side. Wait a couple of minutes for the white milky substance to come out and solidify. Wash the chayotes thoroughly in cold running water, washing away all the white substance. Peel with a vegetable peeler. Voila!


Roast Chicken with Lemon and Thyme

I made this epicurious.com recipe for Roast Chicken with Lemon and Thyme last night. It produced an amazingly juicy chicken that Mika couldn’t get enough of. I think it was even juicier than the rotisserie chicken I make, BUT it was quite lacking in the flavor department. The sauce that came with it was just OK.
I would use the method again: Preheat oven to 450F. Put chicken on a grilling pan (I’d rub olive oil on it and sprinkle it with salt and pepper) and roast for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375F and cook for another hour or until it reaches an internal temperature of 180F.
But I wouldn’t bother with the sauce or even the marinade.
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Mika’s Egyptian Birthday Cake

Mika's Egyptian Birthday Cake
Mika wanted to have an Ancient Egyptian Birthday Party and that meant an Ancient Egyptian cake. We usually get Safeway birthday cakes because they are pretty good and they offer a choice of whipped cream as frosting and filling. I don’t really like other frostings, specially as they are probably full of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. But Safeway did not offer an Ancient Egyptian decoration theme for the cake (no surprise there) and, after having spent so much money on the party, I really didn’t want to spend that much on the cake. So I decided to make it myself.
We first attempted to make a pyramid cake, but that didn’t work out at all – the cake never achieved a pyramid shape. We then settled for a sheet cake decorated with Ancient Egyptian plastic figurines I got at Amazon. Now, these were quite expensive ($10) which did bring up the cost of the cake, but they are very cute and hopefully the kids will play with them. I guess otherwise I can always put them up on listia 🙂
Mika wanted a chocolate cake with strawberry-whipped cream filling and whipped-cream frosting. After consultation with people in the craigslist food forum I decided to make a box mix cake, I’m not sure if that was the best choice as I didn’t think the cake was that chocolaty, but I’m a terrible baker myself so there was no guarantee I could do better by making it from scratch.
I baked 2 cakes in two the longer pyrex baking dishes, but that was a mistake – as each cake was pretty tall so putting one over the other made for a *very* tall cake. Next time I’d probably only use 2/3rd of the batter produced by each cake mix for each sheet.
I baked the cakes the day before, then I covered them with saran wrap and left them on my table – they kept very well.
I was concerned that the whipped cream filling would not be hard enough to withstand the weight of the top cake, but actually this was not a problem at all. I topped the bottom sheet with a couple of layers of fresh sliced strawberries (which I’d gotten at the farmer’s market the day before. The strawberries themselves were delicious – I think next time I might even go for a 3rd layer of them.
Then I whipped 1 qt + 1/2 cup of heavy cream (what I had at home) with about 1 tsp. of cornstarch plus granulated sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. I don’t know how much sugar I used, I just poured it into the mixing bowl until the cream was sweet enough. The results was a pretty heavy whipped cream. I used about half of it to top the strawberries and then I put the second cake on top of that. The second cake did not crush it at all, and the cream did not slide off the sides – what I feared. In other words, it worked quite well.
I used the rest of the cream to top the cake and cover the sides. I actually ended up not having enough cream for this – next time I’d probably use 3 pints – and serve any extra with the extra strawberries. Though if I make a thinner cake, I’d need less cream.
Also at the suggestion of someone from craigslist, I powdered some cookies (I used shortbread cookies) and sprinkle them on top of the cake to make it look like sand. I really liked this effect.
Finally, Mika decorated the cake with the figures and the candles.
She was very happy with the cake, and it was pretty good (though there was too much cake to cream ratio) – and I saved some money over a Safeway cake. So can’t complain.
BTW, I bought the heavy cream at Trader Joe’s. It’s about half as much there as in Safeway, but it has a relatively short “shelf” life.


Cooking London Broil

Last night I made London Broil with Soy Citrus Mayonnaise from epicurious.com It was fairly simple (though you need to marinate the meat for several hours) and the meat was quite tasty. It was a bit tough (it’s London Broil, after all), but I was quite happy with the results. That said it wasn’t special enough to make again.
Perhaps of greater interest than the recipe was the cooking method:
1 – Marinate the London broil (2-3 lbs/1Kg steak)
2 – Let it sit at room temperature for 30′
3 – Heat a skillet to high and sear on one side for 5′
4 – Turn the steak over, cover, lower the heat to medium low and cook for 10 – 15′ or until it reaches an internal temperature of 120F/49C for medium-rare
5 – Put the steak on a plate, cover with a kitchen towel and rest for 15′