Shrimp Cucumber Roll - Tails Up & Out

Always a seeker of how to take ordinary ingredients and serve them up differently, an idea caught my eye the other day while I was working a catering gig. The chef was serving up coconut shrimp, sort of standing up with the tail sticking out. Of course, he served them with their tail shells still on. Which made sense for his presentation, so people could grab and bite away. I’m not usually a fan of shell tails on. Two reasons, really. One is that people often just bite up to that point and leave that cute little shrimp meat inside the tail, missing out the tail section. Two, it’s an extra thing people have to deal with, and can be messy depending on the presentation. But for this application, tails on it is. Tails UP & OUT to be exact.

So, borrowing from the ‘standing up shrimp’ idea I decided to create a shrimp roll of a different kind. I didn’t want something heavy, or that needed to be fried up or warmed up, making it more work for serving. I wanted something pretty, and pretty delicious. Using shrimp, avocado, daikon radish shoots and dab of wasabi sour cream, I wrapped everything up in a cucumber slice. Normally, we buy extra large, jumbo or Tiger Shrimp. But for this appetizer, using a smaller shrimp (medium 35 count) creates a one bite app that can be made ahead, kept chilled and served as guests first arrive.

Since we are all super busy with just days before Christmas I’m not going to make you read a ton of my mind’s meanderings. We are just going to get down to it, so you can serve this up for Christmas eve or day of. Also, no amounts for this one. It will all depend on how many guests you are having. An English cucumber will yield about 20 long slices. A large Gwen avocado will give you plenty of slices, then some.

Ingredients

Shrimp, smaller sized, cleaned and deveined
English Cucumber, long thin slices
Avocado, small, thin slices
Sour Cream
Wasabi paste (amount depends on how much heat you want)
Daikon Radish Shoots*
Aromatics for shrimp boil (bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley, lemon, salt)

* You can use any micro sprout you find. However, the daikon radish sprout has a spicy note to it, so if you use something milder, you might want to increase the amount of wasabi paste. Use your taste buds as your guide.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

Instructions

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise. And set aside covered with wet paper towels.

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2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together sour cream, wasabi paste and salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to assemble. I used two heaping tablespoons of sour cream with 3/4 t wasabi. (only 1/4 t. shown below, because I tasted it wanted more heat so I added more.)

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

3. To get the shrimp really flavorful, prep the poaching water by bringing to a boil 6 cups of water with 2-3 bay leaves, 1 T peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley and salt. Then let simmer for 10 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse into the water.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

A pot of goodness.

A pot of goodness.

4. Meanwhile, get an ice bath ready (a large bowl of water with ice cubes with a smaller bowl inserted in the middle) to transfer cooked shrimp immediately after to stop the cooking.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

5. Once the water has simmered, squeeze the lemon into the water and toss it into the pot. Then add the shrimp and let cook for 2-3 minutes until they turn opaque pinkness orange. Transfer them immediately to the ice bath.

6. Cut the avocado into small strips. Sprinkle with course salt. (You can squeeze a bit of lemon, too.)

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

7. Assemble by laying the cucumber strip down and placing shrimp, avocado and radish shoots on the end of the cucumber, and begin to roll. Since shrimp curl when they cook, I found that straightening the shrimp out a bit helped with rolling it up.

Ready, set, ROLL.

Ready, set, ROLL.

8. Once rolled up, squeeze or place a dollop of the wasabi sour cream on top. (I used a piping bag because I find it easier. You can use a plastic bag with the tip cut off, or simply dollop it on).

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Place on a platter. Or maybe a tiered plate rack. Whatever floats your shrimp boat. This bite size appetizer is light and a refreshing twist on the high fat, high calorie fried shrimp roll. I adore how the sprouts stick up. It’s colorful. It’s playful. It’s just the right size bite.

If you don’t have wasabi paste, then you can make any kind of jazzed up sour cream you like. Or even use mayo or yogurt. Some ideas:

  • smashed avocado mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • lime zest mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • siracha mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • jalapeño mayo/sour cream or yogurt

You get the idea. Mix up a bit whatever creamy option you like with something you love that pairs well with shrimp to make it tad more special.

But wait, there’s more. Because I hate to waste, and I had cucumber left over, I cut it into thick slices and created a vegetarian option. All it took was some radish shoots, avocado slice and dollop of wasabi sour cream to create a bite for the non fish eating crowd. Another ‘leftover’ was the outer peel of the cucumber. I tied it into a knot and used it to decorate the plate. Two for one, all the way around.

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

These make a great pass-around appetizers as well as one that looks great on a buffet. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and a Shrimp Cucumber Roll, with their tails sticking out!

 

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Post Note: I made these again but I forgot the avocado. So in true ‘use what you have’ mode, I swapped it out with mango slices. I have to say, I think I liked it even more!

Chicken Salad with Fruits & Nuts

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Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy.  So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat?  Creamy is nice but heavy is not.   Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down. 

My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy.  Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.

I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me.  It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies.  Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting.  Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited.  Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement.  Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo?  Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy.  Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it.  I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.     

I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach.  In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.

Ingredients 

(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c.  Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *                                       
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
parsley sprigs

For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.  

Dressing
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
salt, pepper
 

Instructions

1. Clean and rinse the chicken well.  In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan.  Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover.  Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.

2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Creamy, tangy and light.

Creamy, tangy and light.

3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool.  Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them.  Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)

Chicken
Red grapes
Apples

4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred.  Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing.  Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.

Chicken Salad lighter

You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette.  I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats.   All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad. 

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers.  I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous  and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful  lunch plate for JC.  At first he said, "That's way too much food."  Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left.  Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.  

And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken.  What serendipity.  They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up.  Why did the neighbor cross the road?  Ask the chicken.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.

 

Screaming Shrimp Cooled by Creamy Avocado & Tomato

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Shrimp; sure their name might denote that they are small in size, but they are big in versatility.  As Bubba so notably recited, "Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That, that’s about it.”  Well, that's where I disagree with Bubba. There are a thousand ways to prepare a shrimp.  Which makes them a perfect non meat dish to serve for a dinner party or crowd. Plus most people love shrimp. (Minus those poor souls with that horrible allergic reaction in the form of swelling, non breathing and other awful symptoms. So sorry for that group.)  

Shrimp, in any form, on a big platter equals party pleaser.  I have found this out the hard way.  Early on in our entertaining days, since I'm a pescatarian, we would make shrimp for me when meat was the main course.  But soon found out that everyone else loved them so much that they would eat up the small amount we made.  We realized that we often didn't make enough for everyone to partake.  Rookie move...that we remedied that quite quickly.  Now, if shrimp is on the menu, it's in quantities that can feed the entire crowd, not just selfish me.

If we get larger size shrimp (does that mean they aren't really shrimp?) then we often leave the shells on. It exudes a ton of flavor.  Marinate and cook them fully cloaked so that all that flavor from the shell cooks into the shrimp meat.   Then suck on the shell before peeling it off.  Don't groan and tell me that's gross.  It's delicious.  For this recipe you can peel the shell first or leave it on.  Your choice.  Either way this dish is about the play off the heat of the spicy shrimp cooled by the creaminess of the avocado and fresh cool tomato that makes it so satisfying.  I like this dish for a summer outdoor party or a late Saturday afternoon lunch. 

The setup.

The setup.

Ingredients

1.5 lb. large shrimp
2 avocados, cut into chunks
scrapings of avocado from the skin
2-3 medium (heirloom) tomatoes, thick slices
3-4 large garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 T jalapeño pepper, finely minced*
1/2 - 1 T Chili oil, or 1-2 t crushed red pepper flakes* 
1.5 -2 T ginger, grated*
1.5 T cilantro, chopped
1/2 c red onion, sliced
1 t salt
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 c white wine to deglaze pan
2 c basmati rice
1/4 c scallions, sliced
1/3 c cilantro
1 lemon, quartered
* These ingredients bring the heat. Adjust the amount according to how hot you like your food.

Dressing

avocado scrapings from the inside of the shell
2 T fresh lemon juice
salt, pepper
1/2 c Olive oil
Whisk together all above ingredients
1 T cilantro, minced for garnish
1 T scallions, sliced for garnish

 

Instructions

In a bowl, combine garlic, jalapeño, chili oil, cilantro, ginger, scallions, red onion, salt and oil.  Mix together with shrimp ensuring all are coated.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour to marinate.  

Make it sing with spice!

Make it sing with spice!

Combine it all in non reactive bowl. I like glass

Combine it all in non reactive bowl. I like glass

Let those shrimps get cozy with heat.

Let those shrimps get cozy with heat.

While the shrimp are marinating, cook the rice.  I use 1.5 times water to rice ratio, bringing the water to a boil then adding rice.  I add a touch of salt to the water, cover and lower the heat to a simmer.   Let it cook around 15-18 minutes until light and fluffy.

Nothing better than fluffy rice. It's begging for some accents, like scallions and cilantro.

Nothing better than fluffy rice. It's begging for some accents, like scallions and cilantro.

Cut the tomatoes and avocado and assemble your plates so that you only have to add the shrimp and serve.  Make the dressing by scraping out the odds and ends from the avocado shell.  Add them to all the dressing ingredients an whisk together, and set aside. 

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You can create a family style platter. Or you can individually plate them using the avocado shells to hold the rice.   

Then sauté the shrimp in a cast iron pan over medium high heat.  You want to get a nice sear on both sides. Shrimp do not take but 2-3  minutes to cook.  Keep in mind that they will continue to cook once removed from the heat. 

Get some good color and crust on them. Yum!

Get some good color and crust on them. Yum!

While the shrimp are cooking, toss the scallions and cilantro into the rice.  You can plate it by using the avocado shells, or simply plate alongside the tomato and avocado. Be creative, and make a pretty plate.

Fill the shell as a rice holder.

Fill the shell as a rice holder.

Or just lay the rice up against the tomatoes.

Or just lay the rice up against the tomatoes.

After all the shrimp are cooked, sauté the marinade in the pan, then add a splash of white wine. 

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Pour over the shrimp and place them on the platter, garnishing with the lemon pieces.  Drizzle the avocado dressing over the tomatoes and avocado. You can sprinkle more cilantro over the shrimp with a squeeze of lemon, too. Serve immediately. 

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I love all the textures of this dish.  Fluffy, soft rice. Crisp, sweet but spicy shrimp. Creamy Avocado and Cool, sweet tomatoes.  What's not to love?  Let your shrimp scream.

Orzo Salad ala Greek

Fresh green salads are a no brainer for the summer.  They are refreshing, crisp and light, as a summer salad should be.  Yet sometimes you may want all of that in a salad but need a tad more substance.  This is when pasta takes its cue and comes to the rescue. (In my opinion, pasta answers any of my rescue calls. It's my lifesaver. Literally and figuratively!)  
This Orzo Pasta Salad with a nod to Greece, is an oldie but goodie.  As with some of my archive recipes, I made them a lot in the past but then just moved on.  Or so I thought.  Come to find out that both my sisters, Alyssa and Jill, have continued to make this particular recipe throughout the years.   Which gives me smiles.  What gives them smiles is when I have to call them so THEY can remind me how I originally told them to make it.  Who cares how we get our smiles, as long as we are smiling.

First, allow me to enumerate on the many great aspects of this dish.  

  • First, it's easy, and that is a huge plus. Good food doesn't have to be complicated or a royal pain in the...
  • Second, since it uses orzo, the pasta component isn't too heavy yet it satisfies superbly.  How perfectly is that!
  • Third, it contains crunchy vegetables. This is two fold good because we all need our veggies and they provide another textural element.
  • Fourth, it packs a ton of flavor.  

Geez, I could keep on keeping on, but do I really need to?   Trust me, it's good.  So let's get down to brass tacks and assemble this one up.  I say ala Greek because the ingredients are similar to a Greek Salad just no lettuce but instead a tooth bite of orzo.  

Ingredients

(Yields approx. 5 cups)

1 lb. box Orzo, cooked
1 c English cucumber, seeds removed, small dice
1/3-2/3 c Calamata olives, chopped
1.5 - 2 c red, orange, yellow pepper, small dice
1/4 c scallions, sliced
1/3 heaping c red onion, small dice
2/3 c fresh basil, chiffonade
2/3 - 3/4 c Feta cheese, crumbled

The line up

The line up

Alright, let me continue with the plusses on this salad. You can prep everything the day before if you wanted to. Just place the chopped vegetables in an airtight container.  You could even cook the orzo if you wanted to. Just add some oil to keep it from sticking together.  Heck, you can make the salad a day ahead of time. Just add the feta before serving.  I told you I could go on and on about the pros to this salad.  

Instructions

Cook the orzo according to the package.  I like mine, as with all my pastas, al dente.  While the orzo is cooking chop the vegetables and olives as suggested above.   Let the orzo cool a bit, then toss it together with vegetables and olives. 

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

When cutting up vegetables, I usually like to slice them up in different sizes to create varying textures and shapes. However, with this salad I would recommend cutting everything in relatively the same size.  It creates an balanced salad, a balanced bite as well as makes it easy to eat. 

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

Once you have everything cut, combine with the orzo.  Then move onto mixing up the dressing.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Dressing

2/3 c Olive oil
1/4 c Red Wine Vinegar
1 t dried oregano
2 heaping t salt
1/2 t crushed black pepper
2 t fresh lemon juice
Zest of lemon, optional

Whisk together and pour over the salad.  I do like to add the dressing when the orzo is slightly warm.  The pasta tends to absorb even more of the flavor.  Once combined, add most of feta cheese and chopped basil leaves.

 

Leave some so you can adorn the top of the salad with more feta and basil, and serve.  This salad is best at room temp.  But I have eaten it right out of the refrigerator. (Actually, standing in the refrig, spoon in hand and gobbling it right out of the container.)

Versatile and vibrant little summer pasta salad that goes with everything.  It's great for a midweek meal using any leftovers for lunch the next day. (That is if you have any leftovers).  Add a base of mixed greens and pile some pasta salad on top. And of course,  this dandy of a dish is simply divine for a summer BBQ crowd.  I even brought a batch into the staff at Despaña and it got all smiles all around.  Like I said, pasta to the rescue.

Loaded Potato - Healthy Style

I know you might find this hard to believe but I had a left over baked potato.  How is that possible, you say?  Well, my sister didn't join us for dinner one night and we had already eaten our fill of the fluffy spud. So the next day I decided to have a healthier version of a loaded baked potato.  

First, in case you missed how I cut the potatoes, you simply make slices not cutting all the way through.  Drizzle with the Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper) and bake for 40-60 minutes. (Again, I can't take credit for this style of cutting. I saw it somewhere and liked it).   

Instead of using sour cream, I took out the Greek yogurt, every variety of the onion family I had (chives, scallions, red onion) and chopped them up.  Stirred them all together with a dash of salt and squeeze of lemon for brightness.

Chives, Red Onion & Scallions ready to be slathered in creamy Greekness.

Chives, Red Onion & Scallions ready to be slathered in creamy Greekness.

I also had some left over roasted broccoli and it reminded me of another topping that you often find in loaded potatoes.   But the roasted version is definitely a cleaner alternative to that traditional topping that is usually swimming in cheese sauce. I love texture, and these provided that crispy element, so I added it to my potato.

I suppose if you wanted more crispiness and the bacon factor but still wanted to keep it 'leaner', you could take some proscuitto or serrano ham, and crisp them up in the oven. This would make a less fatty version for sure.  I kept mine lean and mean with just broccoli and yogurt.  Add a small salad and you have a great lunch. A filling, healthier version of the traditional.