Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh, this is nice!

Still Life with Shrimp, Vincent Van Gogh
In a fit of something or other early last week it seemed the thing to invite Jackie up to spend the night and invite a new friend of seemingly compatible temperament over for dinner with us after I dragged Jackie to the church that I am tentatively beginning to think of as mine. 

It was a good incentive to clean.  So I cleaned.* And then Sunday afternoon, I realized that I had no idea about what I was feeding my two unsuspecting dinner guests.  Except that I definitely did not want to cook another pot of soup or unending casserole, and quiche would take too long after we arrived hungry after church.
I decided that the least I could do was make pizza dough.  Either I'd make pizza or bake it as bread with dinner.  I threw the first stage of pizza dough together and set it aside to rise. 

Then I stared into the depths of the freezer, hoping that I would discover inspiration.  Instead I discovered  most of a bag of frozen spinach.  Somewhere back in the primordial ooze of my mind, a memory stirred.

"Hey M, how do you make that spinach and scallop thing?" 

M is not so big on recipes, but she is a damn good cook.  She thought for a minute  and said, "well, first I take some bacon..."

I groaned a little bit, for one of my guests does not eat dead mammal generally speaking, and turkey bacon does not cut it in the delicious fat department.

"... and if I want a bit of crunch I sprinkle some pine nuts on top.  But the bacon is what really makes it."

I thought longingly of the spinach and scallop thing, and decided that I could sub some olive oil and butter for the bacon grease, and walnuts for the pine nuts.** So I hustled off to the nearest grocery store.  The closest QFC appears to be a grocery store,  but manages to thwart me every time I go in.  This time they did not have the tiny sweet sea scallops of my dreams***.  Sea scallops are relatively cheap and insanely delicous.  Instead, they had great hulking bay scallops for much more than I wanted to spend.  Not having time to run to the either of the larger grocery stores nearby I resorted to some midsized shrimp.  And a lemon.

I got back, and did the stage two things to the pizza dough and shoved it into the fridge to wait.

That evening we feasted.  The pizza dough became a focaccia-like substrate to the not-really-actually-M's-spinach-and-scallop-thing-at-all.  We crumbled feta on top and washed it all down with mugs of tea and glasses of water, and it was wonderful and homey and filling.  For some reason we spent quite a lot of time discussing the literary uses of the Seven Deadly Sins.   

Here are the particulars such as they are.  I confess that I was not measuring anything too strictly for this endeavor.  I could make pizza crust in my sleep, and almost the only ingredient I measure is the water at the beginning.

Pizza Crust or Fake Focaccia

This recipe takes time.  At least a couple of hours.  If you're hungry, but have your heart set on homemade pizza, make yourself a snack before proceeding further.  

Combine in 1 c. tepid water
1 tsp sugar
1Tbsp yeast (or roughly one packet if one does not buy yeast by the jar)
if it foams up in ten minutes or so, then it's usable. If it
doesn't you're probably better off putting yeast on the shopping list
and ordering pizza.

Stir in 1 1/2 c unbleached flour (try to keep the flour to a minimum,
you can always add more if necessary -- this does reflect my prejudice
towards a thinner crust)
optional 1/2 tsp crushed dried rosemary (parmesan cheese, oregano,
and or basil are also good, but I tend towards rosemary because the
other things end up in the toppings)
Stir until flour (and any other additions) is combined.

Go do something else for 45 - 60 minutes. I tend to lean towards the longer rise time

Stir in 1/2 c more of flour (more if the dough is especially wet, as it sometimes is)
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp salt.

Knead for three minutes or so until the dough is thoroughly mixed and

Here we come to a choice. At this point, one can cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge, and leave it there for a few hours or a day or so. Or one can go on to the next bit straight away. The texture is better for the long rest in the fridge, but it's not necessary.

Pour a bit of oil in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Turn
the dough over to coat it with oil.

Oil an appropriate pan and sprinkle it with
corn meal to discourage sticking. Brush off excess cornmeal.

If one is making pizza, attempt to follow these instructions. Form the dough into a round blob. Attempt to stretch it into a disc
about six inches in diameter. Place this in the center of the pan,
working from the center out stretch the pizza dough until it fills the
pan. Try to maintain an even thickness, pinch tears together. The
terminal morrain of crust forms naturally as you work towards the

Go back to ignoring the dough. This is a good time to turn on the
oven. Turn it on to it's highest setting (probably 500 or 550). By
the time it's done preheating, the 20-30 minute second rise should be
done. This is also a good time to make the sauce if you are going to make one.

Place the pizza somewhere in the upper half of the oven. Leave it
there for 5 minutes.

Top the thing.

Bake it for 10-12 minutes (long enough for the cheese to melt and get
bubbly). Serve it to a grateful public.

OR you can skip making pizza, and instead pat out the crust into a round or rectangle about half an inch thick and cook at 450 for 15-20 minutes or until golden on top.

Sauteed Shrimp and Spinach

(Not M's amazing Spinach and Scallop thing really, but pretty wonderful all the same)

This comes together fast enough that one can pretty much do the entire thing while the fake focaccia is in the oven.

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Butter
1 half large onion
1 shallot
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 pound shell on shrimp
frozen spinach, I think it was at least a cup and a half, maybe two
1/2 cup walnuts chopped
Juice of half a lemon (about a 1/4 cup -- it was a large lemon)
1/2 tsp salt
loads of black pepper

Heat the olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat.

Chop the onion and shallot, and talk a friend into peeling the shrimp.

Add the onions, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. 

Defrost the spinach in the microwave after discovering that it had not thawed as much as you had hoped while you were at church. 

Stir the alliums occasionally, while you try to make conversation with your guests.

When the alliums are translucent, add the shrimp.  Flip the shrimp occasionally, so that they cook evenly, but keep an eye on things, for over cooked shrimp are sad. 

When the shrimp are nearly cooked, but still have translucent bits, add the spinach and the lemon juice.  Stir frequently for a couple of minutes while the extra spinach juice cooks off.  Salt and pepper.

Oh it was good. 

*Cleaning at one point involved staring in dismay at the slurry of water and crumbs that resulted after I knocked both my toaster and electric kettle off the cart where they ordinarily reside.  It wouldn't have been so bad, except that I had been moving the cart in order to mop under it.  I looked at the mess, and thought about crying, while I muttered, "This is why I suck at housekeeping. I only make things worse."  And then I went and got the towel that impersonates a bath mat, and sopped up the water and crumbs and remopped the floor. 

**Something of a dice roll, since I am periodically sensitive to walnuts and pecans, but I had been avoiding both for a couple of months, and decided to risk it since I did have a freezer well stocked with nuts from before the last time my body decided that tree nuts were evil. 

***If shrimp are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy; scallops are doubly so.

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