Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Anti-Valentine's

In protest of Valentine's day, I invited a group of friends of various angst level to my house for dinner last night. I did most of the cooking the night before so on the day of the dinner party it wasn't too much work, and everyone raved about the food!

For appetizer, we had shrimp cocktail in individual shot glasses:

I cheated on the cocktail sauce but it was pretty popular with the guests!

Wasabi Shrimp Cocktail

1 lb large shrimp (size: 20 - 25 count per pound), cleaned and shelled
1/3 teaspoons whole black peppercorn
1 bay leaf
1 small lemon, halved (or half of a large lemon)

1 bottle of Whole Foods 365 organic seafood cocktail sauce (found in the ketchup isle. I believe it is about 10 oz)
1 shot of good vodka
1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste

celery sticks, cut to fit your shot glass

10 shot glasses

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the black peppercorn, bay leaf, and lemon about half way through. Put the shrimp in the pot, turn off heat, cover tightly and let poach for about 6-8 minutes. I poached mine for about 8 minutes. Drain and put the shrimp in ice water immediately to stop cooking.

Combine cocktail sauce, vodka, and wasabi paste. Whisk to completely combine (make sure the wasabi paste is completely dissolved. You might want to dissolve it in a little cocktail sauce before you add it in the whole thing).

Pour cocktail sauce in shot glasses, hang two shrimp on the glass and put a celery stick in there. Repeat until you run out of shot glasses! Alternatively you can always serve family style on a plate with the sauce on the side.

For dinner I made pot roast the night before -- in the Le Crueset pot that Lilah had kindly lent me (we missed you!). The recipe is easy but its success totally depends on the cut of meat you get. I got chuck roast this time and was not totally satisfied. Some pieces were a little dry but it could be my fault for trimming away too much of the fat. Also, it is important to make this with fresh herbs and preferably the night before.

Basic Pot Roast

1/4 cup flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
5 pound rump of beef (must have nicely marbled fat)
2 or 3 tablespoons fat or oil
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, scraped and cubed
Herbs: one to two sprigs fresh rosemary, small bundle of fresh thyme (a little less than the rosemary), two bay leaves
4 to 6 cups of beef stock (I used Pacific brand beef stock)

Cut the beef into large pieces (this is where I deviate from traditional pot roast, which is served as a large piece but since I had so many people, it was easier to cut them into more manageable pieces).

Generously season the beef with salt and pepper.

Combine the flour and paprika. You can add a pinch of ground clove in here if you have it.

Dredge the beef pieces in flour -- a very very light coat.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in your casserole pot over medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides and remove to a plate. (don't add too many pieces of beef at once -- otherwise the beef won't brown. I do the browning part in a couple of batches.)

Drain the fat in the pot except for two tablespoons of it. Add onions and carrots stir until translucent, scraping any brown bits left from the beef. Put the beef back in the pot and cover with beef stock. Add the herb sprigs and bring to boil. Simmer for about 3.5 hours until meat is tender. Check in the middle of the simmering to see if it needs more salt. Don't add too much at once as the simmering concentrates flavor.

If you are serving this the next day, here is what I usually do:

When the pot roast is done, I remove the meat with a slotted spoon into a big bowl and remove bay leafs, the herb sprigs (they will be soft and pretty ugly!), and any unsightly bits of overcooked carrots that I don't like). Return meat to the pot and chill overnight. When you serve it the next day, spoon away the fat that has come to the surface (this will be easy to do when you have chilled the pot roast). Bring the pot roast over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add sliced carrots, potatoes, or mushrooms (depending on your preference) in the last 25 minutes of cooking. Thicken the broth with a slurry made from water and cornstarch.


For sides I served the squash gratin that we made last year at Lilah's house with Anna, Amy's mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach, and steamed baby green beans. The spinach was super easy but received the most raves! Here is the recipe:

Sauteed spinach with shallots

large bag of washed baby spinach (I think it's really important to use baby spinach. Otherwise the dish always tastes bitter to me).
3 to 4 large cloves of shallots
1 -3 tablespoons good olive oil

salt and fresh ground pepper

Peel and slice shallots into 1/4 inch rings.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a sautee pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, stir to combine. Sprinkle shallots with a little sea salt. Let the shallots cook until transparent. Take care not to let the shallots burn or brown too quickly. Add one more tablespoons of oil and add the washed spinach. Stir and cook until the spinach is just cooked -- about five minutes or less. Add salt and pepper to taste. Viola!

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