Monday, August 31, 2015

Celery Root and Sweet Potato Puree

This is such a simple recipe, but it's soooooo freaking good, I have to post it.

If you've never had celery root, otherwise known as celeriac, you're really missing out. As the name implies, it's the root of a celery plant, but it's a plant that's been bred specifically for the root - just like chard is a type of beet that's grown for its leaves.

My favorite way to eat celery root is in a puree, but it can be eaten raw or stewed or roasted, or pretty much any way you use any other root vegetable. Usually I puree the celery root along with a regular old white potato. This time though, I changed it up by using a sweet potato.

The result was interesting. The flavors mingled in a surprising way, making it taste like something totally different. Not really like sweet potato, and not entirely like celery root, either.

Celery root can be a little difficult to mash with a hand masher and sometimes it can be a little fibrous. I suggest using a stick blender or a regular blender to puree it. Since I got an early birthday present this year - a Vitamix - I used that to puree the celery root and the sweet potato and I was suitably impressed with the smoothness of the puree - like velvet!

But you can use other methods. I survived for many years without a Vitamix, and I've cooked plenty of celery root in those years.

Celery Root and Sweet Potato Puree

1 celery root
1 sweet potato
1-2 tablespoons butter, to taste
Salt and white pepper, to taste

I suggest finding a celery root and a sweet potato of about the same size, but if they're not exact, it's no big deal. This is a vegetable mash, not a chemical combination.

Peel the celery root. You're best off doing it with a knife, sort of how you remove the rind from a pineapple. Cut the celery root into approximate 1-inch cubes and place them in a saucepan with sufficient salted water to more than cover the celery root.

Peel the sweet potato and cut into cubes the same size. Add them to the pot. Make sure there's water to cover. The celery root cubes might float - don't worry about that.

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook until the cubes are very tender.

Drain very well. Put the cubes in your blender (if that's what you're using) and add a tablespoon or two of butter, depending on how much you like butter. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of white pepper. You can certainly use black pepper, but I preferred the puree without the black specks of pepper.

Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or butter, if desired.

Serve hot.
Celery root (celeriac) and sweet potato puree.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Shrimp with Marsala and Tomatoes

Seafood is ideal when you don't have a lot of time to cook. While shrimp isn't the cheapest thing at the store, frozen shrimp is great to have on hand. I buy it when it's on sale and stash it in the freezer for nights when I need a quick dinner.

This dish is not only quick to cook, you can also cook the tomato/vegetable mix ahead of time, and then reheat it and add the shrimp at the last second. Great for nights when you want to have dinner on the table a few minutes after you get home.

The Piment d'Espelette is a special type of paprika that comes from a specific area in France. It has a little bit of heat to it, but not a lot - it's certainly not like cayenne. If you don't have it, regular paprika is fine. Depending on your preference, you can use either sweet or sharp paprika.

You might notice that I used a cooking wine for this. I keep a few bottles on-hand for convenience, because I don't always want to open a bottle of good drinking wine just for a small amount for a recipe. A while back, I did some sponsored posts for Holland House, and I liked the product so much, I continue to buy it.

Because cooking wine has salt in it (to make it unpalatable for drinking, which is why they don't sell it as booze) you may not need to add much salt to recipes where you use it. As always, taste the food when it's nearly done and add salt if you think you need it.

I thought this was particularly good on top of rice or polenta, but you could also serve it as-is, or with pasta.

Shrimp with Marsala and Tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, peel and cut into chunks
1/2 orange bell pepper, cored and cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon Piment d'Espelette (or paprika)
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1/4 cup marsala cooking wine
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 pounds peeled raw shrimp (if it's frozen, thaw it)

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables are almost cooked through.

Add the tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring as needed, until the liquid is reduced and thickened.

Take the pan off the heat and add the wine (to keep it from flaming). Place it back on the heat and cook for a few more minutes to reduce it again. Add a few grinds of white pepper. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if desired.

Add the shrimp and cook, stirring often, until the shrimp is just opaque.

Serve immediately.
Shrimp with Marsala and Tomato

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chunky Blue Cheese and Buttermilk Salad Dressing (or vegetable dip)

When I was a kid, I loved pretty much any cheese I encountered, from mild brick cheese to sharp cheddar. I loved cottage cheese and cream cheese. I loved ricotta in lasagna (although when I tasted it plain and cold, I thought it was terrible).

I even liked the stronger cheeses that made rare appearances in the home fridge.

But blue cheese ... I was rather skittish.

For one thing, I don't think my mom ever bought it, so it only showed up on restaurant menus as a salad dressing. Since I loved Thousand Island dressing, I always ordered that. So I didn't get much chance to try blue cheese - even as a dressing.

I was also a little bit afraid of it. You see, I'm allergic to penicillin, and the "blue" in blue cheese is actually a penicillin mold. So for quite a long time, I was afraid to eat it. I wasn't sure if I'd have a bad reaction, and I didn't want to take a chance.

Then I did some research and found out that people with allergies to the drug can safely eat the cheese.

I started with a cautious little nibble and then a little more and a little more. These days, if no one was watching me, I could probably polish off a giant wedge of the stuff.

Most of the blue cheese that comes into this house gets eaten on a cracker, but I also like blue cheese dressing. Which also happens to be great as a dip for fresh vegetables.

The little secret in this dressing is that some of the blue cheese is blended into the dressing, while some is added in chunks and crumbs. Every little bit of the dressing has the blue cheese in the background and then you get a little chunk of blue cheese and it's a "pow" of blue cheese flavor.

This is a super-simple dressing, so the cheese really stands out - it's absolutely not ranch with blue. It's very simply blue cheese dressing with no herbs or other strong flavors competing.

You can used any blue cheese you love. I used Point Reyes Buttermilk Blue, because it's one of my favorites.

Chunky Blue Cheese and Buttermilk Salad Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (milk is fine, too)
Pinch of salt
4 ounces blue cheese, divided

Blend the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, salt, and HALF of the blue cheese in a blender until it's smooth.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining half of the cheese into small bits.

Stir the blue cheese bits into the smooth mixture and transfer to a storage container. Refrigerate until needed.
Home Made Blue Cheese Dressing - it's so easy!
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