Friday, May 23, 2014

Cucumber Gazpacho with Persaillote Shrimp and Toasted Almonds

Our most recent trip to France included stays in Lyon (considered by many to be the food capital of France), Montpellier (a south-of-France up-and-comer with food), and Paris (which needs no introduction when it comes to food).  We ate very well.  

Yes, we did indulge in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but we also enjoyed amazing and cheap creperies.  We ate at an authentic Lyonnaise “bouchon” and swooned over the traditional "quenelle,"  but we also visited several ethnic restaurants serving great Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian foods.  When we had an apartment in Montpellier, we were able to do a bit of cooking, but we kept those mostly simple, produce-driven dishes.  Omelets with sautéed mushrooms and Comte cheese or tagliatelle with tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil.  We visited farmers markets and “les halles” at every town we visited, and came back with local cheeses, wines, and produce to consume.  We left the fancy cooking and sauces to restaurants we visited, and instead ate very simply in our temporary home. 

Once we returned to Chicago, I was looking forward to continuing that trend—something that is possible during the summer months when fresh produce is more readily available.  When I went shopping yesterday for our first dinner back home, I stuck mainly to fruits and vegetables.  Our produce is not quite as fresh as those in the markets we visited in France, and much of it is still packaged and trucked (or flown) from other countries.  But it at least felt a bit more “French country” to eat a simple, produce-driven dinner.

I found some beautiful Heirloom tomatoes (above), and sliced a couple of those for a caprese salad (with buffalo mozzarella, basil, and my very own balsamic glaze--recipe here).  The only bit of “cooking” I did was to try a new “Cucumber Gazpacho” recipe from May 2014 issue of Food & Wine.  (Click here for the recipe.)  It’s a super-simple recipe that involved pureeing together cucumber, green grapes, a garlic clove, olive oil, vinegar, and water.  Then season and chill until serving!

The final note to “serve chilled with shrimp and almonds” was where you could go in various different directions.  The picture seemed to encourage using boiled shrimp with raw almonds, and I could see the appeal of that with such a simple recipe.  After all, that would allow the subtle flavors to come through the best.  I chose a slightly different path though.  Since I was doing so little “cooking,” I wanted to do a little extra to the soup.  So, I sautéed the shrimp in some olive oil and a sprinkling of Persaillotte (a French herb mixture of parsley, garlic, and shallot).  I then roasted and chopped the almonds.

As you can see in the picture above, I placed the cooked (then cooled!) shrimp on the bottom of a shallow soup bowl and tossed the roasted almonds over the shrimp.  Then I ladled the chilled cucumber gazpacho on top (picture at top of post).  If you really want to feel like you’re at a fancy restaurant, you can fill small teapots with the chilled soup and then pour it over for each person at the table!

Friday, May 2, 2014

In Pursuit of Better Food After Finals Week

My finals week menu has been a bit down-scale: Microwaved Thai leftovers, microwaved Vietnamese leftovers, microwaved Chinese leftovers, interspersed with side trips to Corner Bakery or Panera.

You ask where my husband is?  Well he was working this week at 12,000 ft altitude, on a business trip to La Paz, Bolivia.  Seeing that I barely slept during my first week in Keystone, CO, at 9321 ft high, I know that he might have been getting more headaches than me during finals week grading.  I suppose I cannot exactly scold him then for not preparing yummy meals for me all this week.

I am happy to report, however, that next week, we are both headed to a land where even bicycles have special carrying slots for your favorite bottle of wine.  (Look closely at the photo at the top of this post.)

And where side-walk cafes are full of vibrant conversations--and lots of tourists willing to pay 5 Euros per cup of cafe creme and le hamburger avec frites.  

And where 500 distinct cheeses await my consumption.  Never mind how many different vintners...

Once we return, I hope to post some pictures of my new favorite food finds in the Rhone and Languedoc-Rousillon regions.  In the meantime, I have to go have another soup-and-salad combo at Corner Bakery with a fellow finals week grader...