I know, I know... it's been a while. But I'm back, baby.
So, I had an excellent Christmas this year. And today, I'm going to talk about my favorite presents.
First off, my sister bought me a cookbook. True to my generation, I have never owned a cookbook. (Not including the family cookbook my sister created.) I almost exclusively use the internet and television for my inspiration in the kitchen.
This is ridiculous.
As a preteen, I used to spend hours reading my mother's cookbooks like novels. It only makes sense that my collection of cookbooks SHOULD rival my collection of sci-fi/fantasy novels. The truly amazing thing about this gift is the fact that Casey didn't even read through the cookbook before purchasing it, wrapping it, and putting it under the tree.
Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking For One - by Joe Yonan
This book is a wonder. As you can see, Casey's decision was kind of a no-brainer. It is the perfect complement to my single-yet-food-centric lifestyle. Let's just say, quite a few future posts of this blog will come with the disclaimer, "this recipe was inspired by Joe's cookbook."
The reason I'm most excited about this cookbook isn't the recipes themselves. It's the techniques. Let's be honest, Joe Yonan is a successful, single man living in Washington, DC. He's a James Beard award winner and is currently the food and travel editor at the Washington Post. I doubt I will ever make "Fig, Taleggio, and Radicchio Pizza." (Many of these recipes use ingredients that are either out of my price range or simply are not carried in my small town grocery stores.) What I will do, however, is use his method for creating a gorgeous personal-sized thin crust pizza with toppings of my choice. (There will be a pizza post coming soon...)
This brings me to my other favorite present. Cash and gift cards may seem like a cop-out. A way to say, "I feel like I should get you something, but I can't be bothered to spend five minutes thinking about a good gift for you."
I'm here to say to you, FUCK THAT. Every time I've been given money or gift cards as presents, I have ALWAYS ended up with what I wanted most. Like the cookbook above, I do truly appreciate a well-selected present. I do not, however, feel AT ALL gypped by a gift of money or gift cards.
This year was a perfect example. Not a week after Christmas, I had had a chance to read through my new cookbook two or three times. At this point, I already knew what I wanted to buy myself with part of my cash gifts from this year.
Over the past decade, I have been most annoyed by the ubiquitous phrase "In an oven-proof skillet..." in recipes. I have always been reluctant to get on the cast iron pan bandwagon, primarily because I hate doing dishes and always imagined a black, crusty pan that I'd have to scrub every time I used it.
So here I was, with an exciting new cookbook all about cooking for oneself, and a good 60% of the recipes utilize some variant of the phrase, "in a small, oven-proof skillet"... SONOFABITCH!!!
So, while walking through Wal-Mart one day, I decided to swing by the home goods section to see what was available in oven-proof cookware. There were quite a few pans that MAY have been oven-proof, but which did not mention anywhere on their packaging that this was the case. I literally was about to give up, when I walked by a SET of cast-iron skillets that were priced under $20.
Yup, that's a 6.5", an 8" and a 10.5" cast-iron skillet. The three of them TOGETHER cost $18 and change.
That's it. I win. There's no use in anyone else playing the game. I have won and set all the records that will stand for all time. You have no idea how much I love these pans.
(And a little hint, do you see how clean they are? I have used these pans almost daily for over a month and have rarely had to spend more than 2 minutes cleaning any one of them no matter what I cooked, or how brown it got.)
Okay, so what have I cooked in them? I figured I'd start with a recipe from the cookbook that I didn't tweak all that much. If you scroll all the way back up to the second picture, you may notice the cover art is a picture of Joe's "Personal Paella with Squid and Scallions".
Yes, this recipe uses both squid and saffron.
No, I did not use either squid or saffron.
Full disclosure, if it was feasible, I would have been happy to use both squid and saffron.
Shrimp Paella for one
Adapted from Joe Yonan's cookbook.
1 cup clam juice (one 8oz bottle)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
handful of small uncooked shrimp (shelled and deveined) - about 4 oz, sprinkled with salt and pepper
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 of a small yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. arborio rice
2 plum tomatoes cut in half, and each half cut into quarters
In a small saucepan, heat up the clam juice, cayenne and smoked paprika.
In a medium (8") oven-proof skillet, quickly saute (30-60 seconds) the shrimp in 1 tsp of olive oil over medium high heat and set them aside. (I even under-cooked them a little bit because they're going to be going into the oven with the paella later in the recipe.)
Add the other 1 tsp of olive oil to the pan and saute the onion, red pepper flakes and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add the rice and saute for about a minute. Add the clam juice mixture, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Stirring frequently, let the mixture bubble away for 10 minutes. The rice will puff up but will not absorb all of the liquid. Stir in the tomatoes and shrimp and pop it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes so that the rice can finish cooking.
Holy Mother Friday this meal was tasty.