Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Refreshing, and pretty too!

Creating little bits of restaurant-style luxury at home can be really simple to do. It requires nothing more than a carefully drizzled sauce, a piece of bread stuck under the broiler until it's crispy and warm, or some fresh herbs stirred into a canned soup or mayonnaise.

Recently I have been finding ways to spruce up the most basic thing in the world: water. I feel like I am constantly trying to drink more water, and constantly falling short. I know why I should be drinking it: it's one of the simplest and cheapest things we can do to provide a ton of benefits, including weight loss, increased energy, elimination of toxins, nice skin, etc. But knowing what to do and actually doing it are vastly different things.

Part of my problem is that I get bored with plain old H2O, and another issue is that I simply forget. It sounds dumb, but unless I'm dying of thirst or there's a glass in front of my face, it doesn't always occur to me to drink. In that vein...I am super excited about my new little discovery: infused water.

During a recent vacation to California, my husband and I stayed at a lovely Marriott in Marina del Rey. Every time we entered the lobby, we were met with a big glass water dispenser filled with infused water--a different flavor every day. It was ice cold, just a teeny bit sweet, and super refreshing. I kept finding myself going back to that water thingy again and again, suddenly excited about hydrating myself. It was partly because it was yummy and fancy, and partly because it was just there. You couldn't walk by it without pouring yourself some, and that--for me--seemed to be the key to the whole thing.

So as soon as we returned to AZ, I went out and purchased myself one of those lovely glass water dispensers (mine was $19.99 at Home Goods, but they can be found just about anywhere that sells kitchen supplies). I filled it up with some filtered water, lemon slices and cucumber slices, and I was suddenly transported back to the Marriott...except that instead of boats gliding through the water, my view was of a living room filled with Barbies and puzzle pieces.

Because the water dispenser sits on my kitchen counter, I am reminded all day long to keep drinking. And I have been having fun experimenting with different flavor combinations. Here are some I've tried out so far:

Cantaloupe & fresh mint
Watermelon & fresh mint
Lemon & fresh rosemary

And some I intend to try...

Strawberry & fresh basil
Lemon & orange

The possibilities are endless! And you don't need much to give it flavor--just a handful of fruit and/or a few sprigs of herbs. There's nothing wrong with just lemon either; it'll still look pretty on your counter and remind you to drink up. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The best smell in the world

Is there anything better than walking into a house and smelling something delicious cooking? It may sound a little June Cleaver-y, but I feel all warm and fuzzy inside when my husband, my girls, or a guest walks into my kitchen and says "Something smells great in here!"

Plenty of foods can inspire that sentiment...cookies in the oven...pasta sauce bubbling on the stove. But of all of the food scents out there, nothing does it for me like the smell of garlic, olive oil, and white wine simmering together. It transports me to my happy place, where I'm sitting on a lovely deck overlooking Napa Valley vineyards, a cool glass of chardonnay in hand, reading a cooking magazine while soft jazz plays in the background.

Any time I see a recipe that involves simmering garlic in white wine, I know it's going to be a winner. And when you throw in some shrimp, tomatoes, lemon zest, and fresh parsley, it would be pretty impossible to go wrong.

This recipe was largely inspired by Ina Garten's "Roasted shrimp with feta," but since I omitted quite a few things, and adjusted the presentation, I thought I'd rewrite my version of the recipe here. I went for a simpler approach, eliminating things like Pernod (who has Pernod on hand?) and fennel, and forgoing the breadcrumb topping in favor of serving the dish alongside my favorite thing in the world: crusty bread.

"Roasted shrimp with feta" (or, as I like to call it: "Roasted shrimp in garlic, tomato and white wine broth") Recipe semi-stolen from Ina Garten.


Several tbsps of good olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 can diced tomatoes (or use fresh)
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs shrimp (peeled and deveined, with tails on)
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp minced Italian parsley
2 lemons (plus the zest from one of them)


Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet that can be safely transferred to the oven. Add the garlic and saute over medium-low heat for one minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced. Add the tomatoes with liquid, tomato paste, and oregano. Add salt & pepper to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Arrange the shrimp, tails up, in one layer over the tomato mixture in the skillet.* Scatter the feta evenly on top. In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest and parsley with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle over the shrimp. Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are opaque and tender. Remove from oven and sprinkle the juice of one lemon on top.

*I have to admit that I struggled with the whole "arranging the shrimp artfully" thing. My shrimp didn't really stand up in the pan...they kind of just fell over on top of one another. So when I removed the dish from the oven, I ended up dumping everything into a big bowl and serving it like that. I actually think it came out kind of better that way, since we could just dish the shrimp and tomato mixture into individual bowls, and then sop up the juices with that crusty bread I was talking about earlier.

Next time I make this, I might leave out the oven altogether, and just saute the shrimp right in the pan. I think the only real reason to bake it was to brown the breadcrumbs, but since the breadcrumbs are excluded in my version, the oven is probably unnecessary.

No matter how you end up cooking the shrimp, you can't really go wrong with this recipe. It's great for  entertaining, and--like so many of my favorite recipes--it can work as either an appetizer or a light dinner. It could also be served over pasta if you're looking for a heftier meal. And it would work perfectly fine without the feta, if you don't feel like buying it, or want to go dairy-free.