Thursday, January 24, 2008

Savory Shrimp

01/23/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Having lived most of my life near the ocean, I deeply miss easy access to fresh seafood. Going to a fish market down at the dock and picking out freshly caught halibut, salmon or cod for dinner was often the highpoint of my grocery shopping week.

Standing in line, I could see the fisherman bringing in their catch for day and was assured of quality and flavor. Living in a land-locked area, I am always a little suspect of what passes for “fresh fish.” Many packages of watery, smelly seafood are not fresh at all, but defrosted.

For that reason, I often purchase packages of IQF (individual quick frozen) fish on sale and store them in my freezer. Treated properly, these bags or boxes of seafood taste almost as good as just-caught. Well, not really. But they’re an acceptable substitute and at least they’re not soggy or don’t go bad on you after a couple of days!

Fish is a nutrient dense food, good for your brain and your heart. If you’ve gotten out of the habit of serving fish at least once a week, consider this quip: “A fish a day keeps the heart doctor away.”

Unfortunately, seafood can be difficult to integrate into family dinners. Small children often do not appreciate the stronger flavors of fishy foods until they are older. And many adults just plain old don’t ever like fish. Almost everyone, however, likes shellfish, especially shrimp.

Shrimp is now the most popular seafood in America. And dinners are easy to put together when you have a bag of shrimp in the freezer. Depending on where you shop, a bag of medium sized cooked or raw shrimp can usually be purchased for a family dinner without breaking the bank. Fancy, larger shrimp will cost more money and just might break the bank if you are feeding a crowd.

The secret to tender shrimp is to cook them quickly. Overcooking can ruin both flavor and texture. Regardless of size, when shrimp turn pink, they’re done. Medium size are usually done in 3-4 minutes; large 5-7 minutes; jumbo take about 7-8 minutes. If cooking in advance, plunge in cold water to stop the cooking process.

The following recipes are simple and delicious. They can be served to family or company. Reader Audrey Bobbitt sent in the elegant Linguine Scampi. The Shrimp Creole is a personal favorite at our house, and the sauce is also tasty with chicken.

Bon appétite!

Linguine with Scampi
Audrey Bobbitt

1 pound large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
¾-cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 –teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

1-pound linguine, freshly cooked

Cook linguine in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite; about 8-9 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until melted. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and parsley. Cook shrimp until pink and no longer translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Drain pasta and divide among plates. Spoon shrimp mixture over linguine, garnish with a couple of pinches Parmesan cheese and serve. Serves 4

Saucy Shrimp Creole

1 pound fresh or frozen shelled shrimp, cleaned
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-cup coarsely chopped onion
1-cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper
1 large can tomatoes (28-ounces), cut up
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant chicken bouillon granules
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
Several dashes hot pepper sauce (according to taste)
1-teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 –teaspoon coarse ground pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups hot cooked rice (or more)
¼ cup snipped parsley

In a large saucepan bring 4-6 cups water to boil; add shrimp. Return water to boil, reduce heat and simmer 1-3 minutes or until pink. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

In a large skillet heat the oil. Sauté the onion and bell pepper until tender. Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon, Worcestershire, brown sugar, thyme and pepper sauce. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes or longer.

Combine cornstarch with ¼-cup water; add to sauce in skillet. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Add garlic salt and pepper; taste to adjust seasonings and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Add shrimp and heat through.

Combine rice and parsley. Serve shrimp mixture over rice with French bread to sop up the sauce.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pastor Billy Craig's new journey

01/16/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Last November, many of us received the news that Pastor Billy Craig was in a coma, fighting for his life at Sacred Heart Hospital. It was sobering to envision this upbeat, vibrant man as desperately ill. “Life really does turn on a dime,” I thought. One moment all is well. The next moment (without warning), the bottom drops out of our universe. I vividly remember the day in 2004 when Pastor Billy bounced into the Sentinel office. He was brimming with energy and the picture of health. Newly appointed to serve as the leader of our local United Methodist Church, he was here to serve his God, the people of his congregation, and the entire town of Cottage Grove. A self-described “Ornery ole country vicar (who happens to be a Spirit filled, shouting Methodist),” he was in the prime of life when the bottom dropped out of his world. On that fateful day in November, he was working in his church office, when he collapsed as a series of brain seizures wracked his body. This previously vibrant 50-year old man (who earlier in the year had aced his mid-life physical) went down like a rock. He has no memory of the 911 call and the fast response by the Emergency Medical Team or the ambulance trip to Sacred Heart. He doesn’t remember those first desperate days after the seizures: the diagnosis of viral meningitis, his kidneys shutting down, the dialysis treatments, or even the pneumonia that put him on a respirator. Pastor Billy was comatose when tests discovered that his problem was greater than the meningitis. An MRI revealed a ping-pong size malignant tumor with three “fingers” called an Anaplastic Astrocytoma, deep in his brain. It is a very difficult tumor to treat. While Billy was comatose, hundreds of people rallied to support him, his wife Janie, their four children and seven grandchildren. Local clergy of all denominations gathered with others to pray for one of their own. Prayer vigils were held at the church. His loving congregation was in shock but not without hope. Everyone stepped up to the plate and offered whatever was needed. Anna Snauer even took charge of spoiling the Craig’s two King Charles Spaniels. Gregg Munroe, a retired Methodist pastor and military chaplain began helping to fill the pulpit and other responsibilities. Lay leader Sharon Snauer remembers praying on her knees in the church sanctuary and receiving the assurance that “No matter what happens, God is in control. He has already taken control of this tumor and his will (will) be done.” For days, all of the news was grim. Janie remembers being scared to death as she watched the man she loved go from one crisis to another. Not knowing the extent of the brain damage, the doctors warned her of possible dire consequences. She was advised that her husband might not be able to walk or talk; to chew or swallow. In fact, it was suggested that he might remain in a vegetative state. But, Janie says, God told her something different. He said, “Don’t worry, Janie, miracles happen every day.” And sure enough, right there in the hospital, miracles happened. One by one, his body overcame the life-threatening conditions. When Billy came out of the coma, he startled the doctor at his bedside by saying, “Thank you.” Then, he looked at his wife nearby and said, “You are the most beautiful person in the world. We are so blessed.” Three weeks after the seizures, diagnoses, brain biopsies, setbacks and rehabilitation (where he learned to walk and talk again), Pastor Billy came home. He was fully functional. It was decided that the best place to address his particular treatment options was the Cancer Center of Tulsa. It was there that he received the painful news that no one ever wants to hear. “I was told that I wasn’t going to recover and that was hard,” Billy said quietly. “But I’m not depending on the doctors, I’m depending on God.” Like so many before them, Pastor Billy and Janie now find themselves on a journey that they didn’t chose. They are, however, choosing to traverse this difficult path by looking up and not down. They are counting their blessings. “This is a journey that God has given,” they say. “We would not have chosen it but we will walk it with grace.” There are many ways to attack growing tumors. Together with his doctors, the Craigs have decided not to undergo further surgery. They have chosen the option to shrink the tumor chemically. Soon, a combination chemotherapy and radiation treatment will begin this process. Chemo will be given the night before radiation in a series lasting several weeks. The outcome has yet to be revealed. At this time Billy has no pain but tires easily. Together, he and Janie are trusting that God will bring a miracle of healing in the coming weeks. Always an active man, he is chafing a bit at the restrictions placed upon him. Now he is anxious to get on with his love of life and preaching. “I want that tumor completely removed by the hand of God,” Billy simply says. “Since he made this ornery ole country vicar and still has access to the original specs and production plans, I want to trust him with this. Please pray for my healing.” Note: You may read Pastor Billy’s online journal at: Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Her columns appear weekly in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Apricot Purses and Gingerbread Men

Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

In this first column of the New Year, I would like to thank those of you who have called, written or emailed to welcome me back to the pages of the Sentinel. Your words of encouragement have warmed my heart. It is good to be back sharing recipes, memories and lives with my neighbors here in the Grove and around the county.

Like most of you, I am not a dietician or fancy chef. I’m just a cook with some training and years of professional experience. So, if you’ve got a burning cooking question, send it in to me. I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

One reader recently emailed me a query about measuring pecans for my cream cheese sno-balls recipe. The ingredients called for one-cup finely chopped pecans.

The question was “Do you measure the pecans before or after chopping?”

Personally, I was taught to measure out a heaping cup (or whatever the amount called for) of dry ingredients and then chop. I then re-measure the ingredients and adjust the amount up or down as needed.

There can be confusion on this matter because of the way some recipes are worded. Technically speaking, if the recipe says,” ½ cup chopped nuts,” you would chop and then measure. If the recipe says, “½-cup nuts, chopped,” then you would measure and chop. I don’t think that you can go wrong with either method.

Most cooks love to share a good recipe (although we all have a few secrets that we keep). As readers share fresh recipes and cooking ideas, I will try to pass them on to you. The difficulties, of course, are space restrictions or if we’re getting too many of one kind. Today, I have a couple of recipes to share before they get lost in my post-holiday, decidedly unorganized kitchen. Both are cookie recipes.

My immediate neighborhood’s annual cookie party was a great success both in the variety of cookies and the variety of people who came. Although we did not have an official contest, I think we would all agree that Nadine Kelley’s “Apricot Purses” were the blue-ribbon winner in all categories — appealing appearance, original and tasty. These purses are absolutely delicious and you must try them.

Another neighbor, (a little farther down the road), sent in a cute picture of a gingerbread man cookie with its recipe. I haven’t made these yet but they are definitely on my list. I added a few decorating ideas to the recipe. Give them a try.

And finally, thanks to the sharp eyes of many readers, today’s Cook’s Corner contains the corrected version of “Quick Chunky Ham and Potato Soup.” From the positive feedback that I’ve gotten, the soup was a big hit. However, I did leave the milk out of the ingredients list. I’d like to say that I was just testing your cooking skills but ‘taint so! My fingers just forgot to type “3 cups of milk and 1 teaspoon dill.”

Phyllo and Apricot Purses
(Nadine Kelley)

1/2 cup ready to eat dried apricots
3 tablespoons Apricot compote or conserve
3 macaroons, crushed
3 phyllo pastry sheets
4 tsp butter melted plus extra for greasing
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Lightly grease baking sheet with butter.
Chop apricots fairly finely, put them in a bowl and stir in the apricot compote. Add the crushed macaroons and mix together well.

Cut phyllo pastry into 24 x 5" squares; pile the squares on top of each other and cover with a clean dishtowel to prevent drying.

Lay one pastry square on a flat surface and brush lightly with melted butter; lay another square on top. Brush the top square with butter.

Spoon a small amount of apricot mixture in the center of pastry; bring up the edges and pinch together in a moneybag shape. Repeat with remaining pastry squares.

Arrange on baking sheet and bake for 5—8 minutes until golden.
Transfer to wire rack and dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm.

Note: Nadine says that these usually make a dozen or more.

Gingerbread Men
(Susie Thompson)

½ cup brown sugar, packed
1-teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
¾ cup molasses
1 egg
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1-teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Chill dough and roll out to desired thickness. Cut out the cookies, using a gingerbread boy cutter. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a lightly greased baking sheet. Press raisins or chocolate chips into dough for eyes, nose and mouth. Candied cherries or even cinnamon candies may be used artistically as shirt buttons. Bake about 15 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from pan. When cool, decorate with icing for collar, cuffs, belt and shoes.

Quick Chunky Potato and Ham Soup
(Corrected version from 12/26/07)

4 red potatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ cup margarine
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1-cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3 ounces cream cheese
2 cups ham, diced
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

Put potatoes in pot and cover with boiling water. Cook until nearly tender. Drain, reserving some of the liquid if broth needs thinning. Peel the potatoes, (leaving some of the skin on for color) and dice.

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté chopped onion until tender. Add flour to mixture and stir until smooth. Cook until bubbly to remove starchy taste. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Add reserved broth if consistency is too thick.

Slowly stir in cream cheese, cheddar cheese and ham. Add salt, pepper and dill. Simmer the soup over very low heat, for about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with green onions.

Note: If you have a lot of leftover mashed potatoes, they can be substituted for the red ones.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.