Tag Archives: Christmas

Shrimp Scampi

Merry Christmas! This was the first year that I’ve been away from “home” for Christmas. I visited my family and friends in the Northwest earlier in the month, spending the actual Christmas holiday with Grant and his family. It was really wonderful and an important step in making The South my new homebase…and creating new traditions.

On Christmas Eve, we walked to our neighborhood Moravian church for the Lovefeast ceremony – full of lots of beautiful choir music, Moravian buns (rolls with orange and vanilla), sweet coffee and beeswax candles that everyone holds at the end. Then, we came home and I made a seafood dish in keeping with the Italian tradition of having fish for the holidays.

After dinner, we made hot toddies and walked through the neighborhood, where each street was dotted with flickering luminaries. I don’t know who organizes the luminary thing, but it looks really magical – all those glowing lights trimming the streets, winding around the foothills of Buena Vista. There must have been thousands.

But back to food traditions – seafood at Christmas! I must have red meat on Christmas day, so seafood the night before is a wonderful balance. I made a recipe that I saw in Food Network Magazine from the amazing Lidia Bastianich, who is frequently featured in Bon Appetit and partnered with Mario Batali to create “Eataly” in NYC. I always wanted an Italian grandmother just like Lidia. So I should have known that this recipe would knock my socks off…

Scampi means heavy on the garlic and lemon…and butter. But Lidia’s recipe really goes above and beyond by creating a garlic-shallot paste that you treat much like and Indian curry paste – frying it in the pan until it dries out a little, then adding the liquids and simmering to thicken.

The flavors are aggressive and the seasoning is perfect – Grant about died when he snuck a spoonful of the buttery sauce simmering on the stove. I served mine over capellini, but it would also be good with crusty bread or any other thin pasta.

I have to call this recipe a MUST for anyone who loves Italian food, seafood and/or garlic.

Shrimp Scampi with Capellini

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 3 shallots, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 7 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 lb. dry capellini pasta

Combine the shallots, 5 cloves garlic and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a food processor. Process to make a smooth paste. Set aside.

Pour 6 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining garlic into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Let the garlic sizzle for a minute, then add half of the shrimp and all of the thyme. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the shrimp are seared but not fully cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining shrimp and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove the shrimp and thyme from the skillet to the plate.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic-shallot paste to the same skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the paste has dried out and begins to stick to the bottom of the skillet, 2 to 3 minutes. Return the thyme to the skillet and pour in the white wine, lemon juice, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons butter and 1 cup water. Bring the sauce to a rapid boil and cook until reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Keep warm.

When the sauce has reduced, whisk in the remaining butter and return the shrimp to the pan. Cook and toss until the shrimp are coated with the sauce and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs and bring to a boil just to thicken.

To serve, spoon shrimp mixture over pasta and garnish with more parsley and cracked pepper, if needed.

Rich and filling, this was just what we wanted on Christmas Eve.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Seared scallops with Christmas risotto

For Christmas Eve dinner, my sister and I prepared a meal perfect for the night before Christmas because it won’t compete with the rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Scallops seared to a caramel brown sit atop a creamy risotto made with bacon, basil, jalapeno and bright red tomatoes – creating a red and green festive plate.

I’ve made this risotto a couple times before, after seeing it here on We Are Not Martha. However, I’ve had to change a few things. For example, adding the tomatoes at the very-very end to prevent them from dissolving into the risotto. Also, I used more chicken stock than it called for, to add extra creaminess. The only fat you’ll need comes from the smoky bacon, which will blow your family away with the addition of garlic and white wine.

Truly, there’s little to dislike about this dish. The following offers small portions for 4 people, but plenty for 2-3.

Seared scallops with Christmas risotto

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound large sea scallops, rinsed, patted dry, salt and peppered
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T EVOO
  • 3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced (or 1/2 of large jalapeno) – approx 2 tsp
  • 3/4 c. arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 3 c. chicken stock, low-sodium
  • 2-3 tomatoes, seeded and diced (roughly 1 c.)
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Parmesano Reggiano, grated, plus more for serving

Heat chicken stock in medium saucepan over medium heat on back burner. Keep simmering.

Meanwhile, add bacon to large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, reducing heat to medium-low, until bacon is crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then pour off all but 1 T of the bacon fat.

Return pan to medium-low heat and add garlic and jalapeno (you could also substitute a pinch of red pepper flakes here). Cook for a minute, until foaming.

Stir in rice and cook until translucent around the edges; 1-2 min.

Add wine, scraping up the bacon bits from the bottom. When wine is absorbed, add 1 ladle (1/2 c.) chicken stock. Stir until absorbed, repeating until all the stock is used or the risotto is creamy with just the smallest bite to it. You don’t want it to be grainy in the middle – but slightly al dente. Check for seasonings (I’ve never had to add extra salt and pepper).

While the rice is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium heat with butter and EVOO. When butter is melted and foaming, add scallops and sear until a nice brown crust forms on each side. Reserve to a plate.

When risotto is done, stir in the cheese until melted, then add the basil, tomatoes and reserved bacon.

To serve, spoon risotto onto plates, then top with scallops. Serve with extra cheese to dust on top.

I can’t tell you how delicious this is. Served with more white wine and a salad, my family was sighing with happiness. Please try this – special enough for a holiday, but perfect for any ol’ day. Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t crave a certain nostalgic sweet this time of year. My mom always turns Martha Stewart during the holidays, but of all her confections, these festive cookies remain my favorite, year after year.

I never knew why I liked them so much until I grew up and realized that it was the addition of cream cheese in the dough. Then I got even older, and wanted to keep the tradition alive thousands of miles from home, finding that almond extract plus vanilla extract provides the unique flavor.

And there was one other thing: margarine. And no salt. When questioned, my mother said she found that butter makes the cookies too crumbly for the cut-outs, and margarine and cream cheese have all the salt you’ll need. So, okay, I trusted her.

The result was a soft and creamy dough that produced perfect cookie cut-outs, ready for a little sugar-crystal sparkle. This is a truly unique and wonderful twist on the classic Christmas sugar cookie. I dare you to dislike it!

Almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 c. margarine, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl or your mixer, beat margarine and cream cheese until combined. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well after each addition. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight (or make ahead and freeze).

Preheat oven to 375. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to as thin as you like. Maybe a quarter inch? Thicker will be chewier. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes and place on a nongreased cookie sheet. These won’t spread much, so you can really fit a bunch. Chill the dough in between batches, so it doesn’t get too soft.

Sprinkle the cookies with colored sugar, or any decorations you like (or use frosting when baked and cooled!).

Bake for 6-8 minutes until just lightly browned at the edges – they will still be quite white. Let cool on pan for 2 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to finish.

Go on, create your own Christmas cookie tradition with the loved ones in your life. I know I’ve been making all sorts of new traditions this year!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Christmastime is Here

We didn’t have any chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but we did have this warm and cozy scene in which to sit with cozy socks and a bottle of pinot noir. I felt straight out of a Martha Stewart Living holiday edition – all we needed was a little more snow on the frozen ground outside.

The mantle holds vintage wax Santas, nutcrackers and instead of a nativity scene…a “Rudolph” scene!

As Grant fussed around the tree, I made a batch of mom’s festive cookies for a party on Friday. I’m calling them almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies (recipe to come). The dough was so creamy and supple, sprinkled with sugar crystals and absolutely delicious.

It’s silent nights like these, where you’re with the ones who love you, that remind me why I shamelessly love Christmastime. Because it makes it okay for me to be a sentimentalist who is happy on a comfy couch with a brightly lit tree and old Christmas tunes in the background. Because it’s okay to wax poetic about children’s cartoon characters. Because it’s okay to be OCD about the tree standing straight or the ornaments being hung evenly.

Hope you all are having a peaceful holiday so far … I’ll be back with more recipes from the various parties I know we all will be overdosed on.

xoxo

Fudging the facts

The hourglass is nearly empty for my ugly Christmas sweater/sock party tomorrow, and I’ve been busy preparing all week.

Last night, I finished my famous Christmas Fudge.

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It’s your basic fudge recipe: melt 8 oz. chocolate with 1 stick of butter (I use half semi-sweet and half bittersweet chocolate). Then add that to a mixture of 2 eggs, 1 pound of powdered sugar. Then you spread it into a buttered pan and chill.

I added broken bits of candy cane on top because I love mint and chocolate together.

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I must admit, this fudge is effing awesome. I used to ask for just a pan of it for Christmas. Yeah, that good.

Confession of a fudge-a-holic

Confession of a fudge-a-holic

Stay tuned for  more party pics this weekend….