04 December, 2007

the ultimate shrimp dish





























No, I'm not producing my own escargots! But this is awfully funny. I put out a stockpot full of chicken stock, out in my "larder," otherwise known as the space outside my bedroom door, leading toward our communal garden. I used a lid that was larger than the pot, having the sneaking feeling the true lid was in... Connecticut. Well, I brought the pot in to skim off the fat yesterday, and there, on the underside of the lid, was this little fellow! He was amazingly brave, even when I showed him to the cats (who with true domesticated disinterest just gazed at him). I was tempted to keep him for Avery when she came home from school, but he moved so quickly in just a couple of minutes that I knew I'd have no idea where he was, very shortly, so off he went back to the garden.

It's official: I've sent off the last piece of paperwork for Avery's senior school applications. Each school has a different system: some want a copy of her birth certificate (presumably so we can't send a very small 18-year-old to take the exam), some want a passport photo, each wants a substantial check for their pains. Then there's the second tier of paperwork: once you've applied to the school, then they send you a form to fill out to apply to the exam. Sigh. Finally, though, done and dusted, all six sets of stuff off my desk and out to the schools. Now it's up to Avery, poor dear. After a little early-week meltdown over the horrid "mock exams," she has found her stride again and is pretty cheerful. We were walking home in the unbelievably early dusk last night and stopped off at the newsstand for a little light reading, then headed home. "You know what I want to do when I get home, Mommy? I know it sounds trivial, but I just want to draw and listen to the soundtrack to "White Christmas." I had to laugh, "Listen, you're talking to a person with Hello! magazine under her arm, so trivial is not really a problem." "Good point," she said, and it struck me that she's a real person these days, not really to be treated as a child very much anymore. A real conversationalist, a person who loves Bing Crosby on her own, knows things I don't know, has had experiences I can only imagine, can do so many things I can't do! How did it happen so quickly?

The Christmas tree is up (it's a little runty, but in the end I chose aroma over size, as the large trees smelled like precisely nothing and this one emits a wonderful flavor) and decorated as you see, and I've been able to turn my attention to little matters like The Ultimate Shrimp Dish. Try it and be amazed.

It's a variation on a recipe I found in Red magazine while I was having my hair cut. My Italian hair guy was going on and ON in sweet but unintelligible detail about his grandmother's recipe for chicken escalopes ("her secret, Kristen, she cook them twice," what this means I know not), so I asked him if it was kosher to rip the recipe out of the magazine, and as it was an October copy, yes. The author is an Indian cook called Vicky Bhogal, from her "A Year of Cooking Like Mummyji," and I'll definitely look for the book. You can also try her website. It's really annoying: in addition to being no doubt a great cook, she's gorgeous. Just what I need in my life: another Nigella Lawson.

I left out the suggested grated coconut (yuck) and substituted ground cumin for cumin seeds, red chillies for green, and added garlic (how can what's essentially a curry dish not include garlic? for shame!). But you can turn all those bits around if you like. I served the shrimps shell-on, with just the back cut with scissors, but on second thoughts I'd shell them: less mess and less effort at the table. But sublime.

Coconut and Cumin Prawns
(serves 4)


1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsps butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsps ground cumin
1 white onion, minced
1 can plum tomatoes, squeezed by hand over skillet
1 tsp sea salt
3 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 can coconut milk
2 pounds raw prawns, shelled
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

In a large skillet, melt the butter with the oil and then add the garlic, cumin and onion and saute until soft. Squeeze the tomatoes to crush them, and add all the juice. Add the salt, chillies (wash your hands before you rub your eyes! I didn't), turmeric, chilli powder and garam masala and cook down until tomatoes are thick. Add the coconut milk and blend well. At this point you can put the sauce aside and get on with your other dishes. Then five minutes or so before you want to eat, heat the sauce again till bubbling and add the shrimps. Cook until they turn thoroughly pink, then stop the heat and serve with rice.

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With this I made a dish of sauteed green mixed vegetables with a sauce that was very nice, and could also be very good on, I thought, beef tenderloin or chicken breasts.

Mustard Seed Cream Sauce
(serves 4)


1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsps butter
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 red chillies finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 cup creme fraiche
whole milk to thin
asparagus, sugar snap peas, broccolini, baby pak choi

Melt the butter and oil together and add everything except the creme fraiche, stir over medium heat until onion is soft. Then add the creme fraiche, mix well, and set aside. Saute the asparagus and broccolini until cooked through, then add the peas and pak choi (be careful not to overcook them as they are very delicate). Heat the sauce again and serve everything piping hot.

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So good and so simple.

Let's see, if you're feeling really precious and want to impress a holiday guest with your presentation skills, try this:

Beetroot Tower with Goats Cheese and Cucumber
(serves 4)


6 beetroots, roasted in tinfoil for 90 minutes, then peeled and sliced thin
1 hydroponic cucumber, or 3 small British cucumbers, sliced thin
100 grams goats cheese with chillies or chives
1 avocado, sliced thin
dressing: fresh pesto shaken up in a jar with peperoncino oil
handful of chopped chives

To assemble this beautiful salad, start with a white plate. Arrange three slices of beetroot in a spiral, then layer a slice of goats cheese, three slices cucumber and two slices avocado. Continue to layer until you run out of ingredients, then drizzle the dressing over all and sprinkle the entire plate with chives. Lovely.

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Tonight we have a Christmas party at the ultra-stylish St John's Wood home of one of Avery's classmates, which should be great for John's ever-present real estate misery. Our rotten landlords have raised the rent for our flat to a truly astronomical level, rubbing salt in the wound of our house-less state. But there is truly no point at all in buying a house now, when we won't know where Avery's going to school next year until February. I would really like to live near enough to her school that she can comfortably walk, since everyone with older children assures me that by mid-autumn next year she won't want me within sight of the school. No more dropoff and pickup heaven for me. Goodness, that stage went quickly. I'm sure my mother radar will continue to go off at 3:20 for the rest of my life, and whatever I'm doing at that hour, in perpetuity, I'll look in panic at my watch and wonder how I could have forgotten to pick her up. Maybe someday she'll let me pick up her children...

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Your tree is lovely and doesn't look runty in the least.

Erik returns from India in the morning so when I looked at the Coconut and Cumin Prawns recipe I wondered if he tried anything like that. I'll report back!!

Now...did you name that little fellow?? ...or was it just a quick good-bye and a pat on the head, er, antennae??