Wednesday, January 7, 2009

a neighborhood gathering

Some people are naturally good with finances. Others are natural athletes. Some people--like Andrew, one of my dinner companions last night--are geniuses on the social networking front. We all have to find our niche. My particular brand of brilliance, I have found, is turning simple, inexpensive ingredients into a culinary masterpiece (or at least a very tasty meal). I love the challenge of concocting something special with limited ingredients and tools, and find myself beaming like a fifth-grader with an A+ book report as whoever I'm feeding tastes my creations...

...which brings me to the dinner I made last night for my friends Andrew and Jacob. Andrew and Jacob both live in my neighborhood and the plan was to have a casual, relaxed dinner together. I wanted to make something warm and hearty, but not inherently filling. I also wanted to try out the delicious-looking LuLu cherry balsamic vinegar that my Aunt Caroline and Uncle David had recently given me. (OK, I will concede that cherry balsamic vinegar does not fall into the category of simple and inexpensive, but everything else I used does! Plus, any of the recipes below can be recreated using regular balsamic vinegar.) Here's the meal I decided on:

Cherry-Balsamic Cabbage Slaw
California-Style Shrimp Cakes with Sriracha-Lemon Aioli
Rosemary-Potato Sourdough (from Grace Baking Co.)
Greek Yogurt with Balsamic-Orange Reduction and Fresh Strawberries

The slaw is an unconventional take on coleslaw. It's light and tangy as opposed to creamy, and bursting with fresh flavors. It's also ridiculously easy and quick to make, and makes a perfect bed for the shrimp cakes.

1 16-oz bag tri-color coleslaw cabbage mix, available where pre-bagged salad mix is sold
2 green onions, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cherry balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey

Whisk olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and honey together. Drizzle over cabbage green onions in a large bowl. Toss to thoroughly coat and refrigerate until ready to serve. This slaw is best if given 20-30 minutes to rest with the dressing on before serving.

I invented this recipe for shrimp cakes one day when I was craving crab cakes but only had shrimp on hand and couldn't be bothered to go out and procure some fresh crab. The result was a tasty, slightly meatier cake--in a category all its own.
These cakes are also delicious made with salmon or halibut.

For the Shrimp Cakes:
1 lb boiled shrimp, tails removed, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small white onion, chopped
2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp mayonnaise, if needed
2 tbsp olive or canola oil, for frying

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in one large frying pan or divide into 2 medium pans. Combine all ingredients except the oil in a bowl, using your (clean!) hands to combine the ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little mayonnaise. Shape into 3" patties, about 3/4 inch thick. Place a few patties carefully in the oil and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until brown on one side. Use a spatula to flip (they may crumble a bit--it's OK) and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the cooked cakes to a baking sheet and keep in a warm (200 degree) oven until ready to use. Add the remaining oil to the pan(s) and repeat with the remaining cakes.

For the Aioli
1-2 tsp Sriracha (depending on your tolerance for spicy food)
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together to form a thin aioli. Add a little water if needed to thin out into a drizzle-able sauce.

Serve 2-3 cakes per person, atop the slaw or a salad, drizzled with the aioli and a little fresh chopped parsley.

Unfortunately Andrew couldn't partake in this dessert, as I completely forgot that he recently developed an allergy to strawberries, but Jacob and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was reminiscent of an ice cream-and-warm-sauce dessert but far healthier thanks to the rich-yet-light non-fat Greek yogurt.

2 cups nonfat Greek yogurt (of course, you can use a higher fat content yogurt if you desire)
4 large, clean strawberries, sliced and tops removed
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used the cherry, you can use whatever you have)
2 tbsp orange marmalade
2 tsp unsalted butter

In a small pot over medium-low, whisk together the vinegar, marmalade and butter, allowing the butter and marmalade to melt. Allow to cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or so, until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy. Add the strawberries and cook for only another minute or so, just until the fruit's flesh absorbs the sauce slightly.

Divide the yogurt into 2 small bowls and pour half of the strawberry-sauce mixture over each.

It was a warm, happy evening, replete with good food, reality television and awesome friends.


1 comment:

AK said...

It was an AMAZING MEAL! And, an overall splendid time.