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!

Fish & Bean Soup

You know the old saying, “Soup Is Good Food”.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s soothing. It’s filling. It warms your belly, and your soul. It cuddles you from the inside out. For me, it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I tend to always enjoy a bowl of soup. Naturally, soup fulfills its goals most definitely during the fall and winter months.

Soups can run the gamut from super complicated and time consuming endeavors, all the way to ‘throw it all in a pot and cook’. From thin, clear broths to thick, chunky stew types. From vegetarian to hog filled meat pleasers. No matter what kind you are making, the key is flavor layering. Building up flavor profiles one by one gives depth and makes the soup richer.

Even though I featured this soup with a simple ‘how to’ in my recent blog post Monday Night Dinner, some of you asked for more specifics. So if you ask, I want to deliver. Whatever I can do to make cooking easier, and a pleasure for you. JuanCarlos was the one who made this soup for our guests that evening. I have made versions of this by adding spinach and scallions. You will see that the add on possibilities are vast. Savoy cabbage would be great, or a scoop of rice. But I like to enjoy it like this, clean and pure to let the broth sing and the fish shine.

So, here goes it. This recipe and the steps are so easy you won’t believe that it takes practically no time to cook. The determining factor is the kind of fish used and how they are cut. Shrimp, Calamari (Squid) and Monkfish all cook in the same time, and super fast. I mean, 5 minute FAST!

I would venture to say if you had all your ingredients out and ready to cut, you could make this soup in 20 minutes start to finish.

Get the timer ready!

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

Ingredients

3/4 lb Monkfish, cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 lb shrimp, cleaned/deveined, cut into bite sized pieces
2 calamari bodies, cleaned, cut into rings
1 c onion, diced
3-4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 c parsley, chopped
2 qts broth (fish or vegetable)
1/4 t red pepper flakes (add more if you like more heat)
1.5 t salt
1/4 c Olive oil

Instructions

1.Cut the onions, garlic and parsley. Add the onions and garlic to a pot with oil, salt and red pepper flakes and
cook over a medium low heat, softly sautéing them. Then add the parsley, and cook slowly.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

2. Meanwhile, clean and cut the fish into bite sized pieces.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

3. Once the aromatics have softened (you don’t want caramelization, just a translucent cook through), add the
beans and their liquid. Slowly warm through.

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4. Add the broth. If you only have 1 quart of broth, do as I did and add quart of water. Just make sure that you
taste for seasoning since water isn’t seasoned where I come from. Bring to a boil.

5. Lower heat to a simmer and add all the fish pieces. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the fish is tender.
DO NOT cook longer or the fish will get overdone and rubbery.

Monkfish in the pot.

Monkfish in the pot.

Squid next.

Squid next.

Shrimp ahoy.

Shrimp ahoy.

Taste the calamari and make sure it’s cooked through. Also, taste for seasonings.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

All that is left is to serve it up immediately, garnish with more parsley and enjoy a warm bowl of clean broth with hearty protein. It will warm your soul, bring a smile to your face, and joy to your heart. Seriously, how much more can one ask from a soup?

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.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

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Another request from the readers...

What to make on Christmas Eve.

If you are an Italian American then Christmas Eve is celebrated by serving a boat load of fish.  Some call it The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  In Italy they just call it a grand meal. 

It appears that the root of this tradition is based mostly in the religious fervor of abstaining from eating red meat until Christmas day.  Folks stayed away from meat eating during various religious days throughout the year and the eve before Christmas was no exception. La Vigilia or Vigilia di Natale; the vigil held until midnight when baby Jesus was born. However, in true Italian style, just because one is abstaining from one type of food doesn’t mean you go hungry.  Oh, the contrary.  Instead they serve an abundance of something else.  Hence, bring in the fishes!

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!      Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!     Photo credit: Paul Majewski

So serving seven fishes is a made up number really.  Some Italian American families go up to 13. These are clearly people will a ton of time on their hands. Preparing that many dishes, and ones that are not so easy to pull off is no simple feat.  But usually this group has a team of grandmothers, aunts, cousins, etc all pitching in.  It seems that whatever the number count, it is always an odd number since that brings good luck.  However, the number 7 is believed to hold a higher significance as it is based in religious reasons. Some theories:

  • The number 7 is the most repeated number in the bible, making appearances over 700 times.
  • God did all his work in 6 days and the 7th he rested.  I would say he could use a day off.
  • In the Roman Catholic Church there are seven Sacraments.

Blah blah blah.  The number isn’t as important as the tradition of serving fish.  I’m not so big on the why but continuing traditions that bring good memories.  If it’s a tradition that is based on something religious and that has meaning to you, great.  If not, but the tradition evokes love and laughter with family and friends, well that my friend is what it is all about.

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Paul Majewski

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                            Photo credit: Paul Majewski

If you are going to attempt the feat of The Feast of Seven Fishes, start early.  And I mean that.  You will need several days of prep if you are going to make any of the tradition recipes.  I have listed them at the bottom of this post with links to popular recipes.  This list is the most common fish used for the feast.

  • anchovies 
  • salted cod fish
  • clams
  • eels
  • lobster
  • merluzzo (cod)
  • mussels
  • octopus
  • sardines
  • scungilli
  • shrimp
  • smelts
  • squid
  • whiting

So let's say that you are interested in trying this tradition but just want to give a nod to the fishes, as opposed to swimming with the fishes, which is another reference entirely. Then swim along with me. I like abundance but I don't have a team of helpers. Below are a few dishes that are simpler in preparation and in numbers.  Pick and choose among my recipe list below. I’m suggesting you start off with 3. Still an odd number for good luck, if you believe in that sort of thing, and much easier to manage. These recipes are not traditional Italian but a lighter version than all the usual fried options and much less demanding. You should only need one day of prep prior and help on the day of.

I had every intention of writing about some of the dishes below prior to this post but alas I had other recipes I wanted to share with you all year long. So you will just have to give it a whirl with my quick instructions.  You can always call or email me with questions.  I mean that.  

The FIsh usually swim onto the plates in an order like this:  First course, something light and snack like.  Then followed by a salad of seafood. Then a dish that is a bit heartier, like a roasted, grilled or seared fish, followed by the pasta course then a hearty seafood stew.  I think I hit most of these courses with the exception of the stew.  But remember I was trying to ease up on the workload for you.

 

Smoked Trout served on potatoes with sour cream & chives

  • Cut small new potatoes in half, slicing off a tiny bit of the rounded edge so they sit properly.  Boil until tender. Let cool.  Top with flaked pieces of smoked trout, a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of chives.
Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Crabmeat & Citrus 'Martini'

  • Combine fresh crabmeat, with yellow bell pepper, celery, grapefruit and orange sections and mint. Serve in a martini glass with endive leaves and spoon the juice from the citrus into each glass.  
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Boquerones 

  •   Fresh anchovies can be served in several ways.  Check out the highlighted title link for serving ideas.
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Salmon & Cucumber Rounds

  • Cut English cucumbers into 1/2” rounds. On plastic wrap, spread smoked salmon out to create a full layer.  Spread whipped cream cheese over the entire layer. Sprinkle with chives (capers and minced shallots optional).  Roll up the entire layer to create a log. Wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Before serving cut into 1/2” rounds, place on top of the cucumber and finish with a small piece of fresh dill

Bellini with Crème Fraiche & Roe

  • These mini bellinis that can be store bought, top with crème fraiche & your favorite roe.
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Whole Baked or filet of fish: Salmon, Trout, Sole , Grouper or Grilled Shrimp

Roasted Salmon

Roasted Salmon

Stuffed Dover Sole

Stuffed Dover Sole

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

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Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

All the above dishes not only would be my choices for Christmas Eve, but these were the dishes I served for a New Year's Party, only I swapped out the linguine & clams for seafood paella.  That dish is one that my 'also good in the kitchen' husband likes to tackle. The fun part about a paella (although not a traditional Italian dish,  is that guests love to watch it come together.)

 

 

If you feel that you have the strength of a mighty Italian, then go for the gold.  Below is a list of some of the most common dishes served during the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  I provided links to recipes from popular sites for your reference.  Please note that I have not tried these recipes. My goal was to do some of the leg work finding  links to make your search less stressful.

•   Baccalà (salt cod) as a salad or fried

•   Baked cod or Baked cod & potatoes

•   Baked Clams casino or a lighter, easier version Clams Casino

•   Cod fish balls in tomato sauce

•   Deep fried calamari

•   Deep fried cod

•   Deep fried fish/shrimp

•   Deep fried scallops

•   Fried smelts

•   Insalata di mare (seafood salad)

•   Linguine with anchovy, clam, lobster, tuna, or crab sauce

•   Marinated or fried eel

•   Octopus salad

•   Oyster shooters

•   Puttanesca traditional tomato sauce with anchovies

•   Scungilli salad (sea snail)

•   Shrimp cocktail traditional version   or Roasted Shrimp Cocktail version

•   Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce

•   Stuffed-baked lobsters

•   Whiting

Whatever you serve, whether it's 7 or 13 fishes, or no fish at all, just remember the most important ingredient of all... LOVE.

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                   Photo credit: Paul Majewski     

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Paul Majewski    

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Eat well. Be well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Guests -Life's Colorful Stroll

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You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

Our world is made up of a bunch small moments.  Each strung together to make up a life.  And when those small moments are fulfilling and memorable, then that string makes up a beautiful life.  Mine is a long string of glistening pearls. Moments upon moments that bring me joy and memories that squarely plant a smile on both my face and heart. 

Last fall I added to that string when we hosted our friends from Miami who have a passion for photography. (Well, Marta has more than passion.  It's her profession. Check out her work here .)

They wanted to enjoy the cool fall weather and snap shots of the changing of the seasons. Which, of course,  is a big deal to them being from a one season city. It ended up being a spectacular weekend as the weather was cool but pleasant, the leaves were all starting to turn and gave way to a rainbow explosion.  The bursts of colors were emblematic of our feelings of spending time together.  Bright and cheerful with the crisp air breathing life into our souls.  

Lake view
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On weekends like these, entertaining takes a more relaxed vibe. We keep the food simple so we can spend quality time together. Plus with all the other activities going on who wants to spend oodles of time in the kitchen.  Simple entertaining doesn’t have to mean boring. It just means easy preparation, few ingredients with big flavors.  

Day One - An evening at home with cocktails, snacks & poached salmon

Since I was working in the city, the first night’s meal was prepared by my hubby who made an easy poached salmon with vegetables.  While we waited for the meal to be ready we downed the 'way to easy to drink' Citrus Martinis while snacking on some cheese, olives, marinated garlic cloves and the famous crowd pleasing nut, Marcona almonds (all of which I brought home with me from Despaña.)

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

I also roasted up some tomatoes ahead of time.  These are the easiest 'must have' staple in your fridge.  Since they are made with enough oil to keep them cured for awhile, they are a savior to pull out in a pinch.  Which is what I did, and then served it on crusty bread.  Our friend, Illy's, reaction to the simplicity but deliciousness of this bite... Priceless.

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

After the snacks and the drinks came the easy 'meal in bowl' dish; Poached Salmon   

Ingredients

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(serves 4)
1.5 lb Salmon
1/2 yellow onion, cut in quarters
2-3 carrots, cut in 1" pieces
2-3 ribs of celery, cut in 1" pieces
4-5 new potatoes, cut into small chunks
Oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 

Sauté for 2-3 minutes only all the vegetables in a large, deep pan using oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Then place the seasoned salmon on top of all the vegetables and fill the pan with water to cover the fish.  Place a cover on the pan and cook over a low heat to a simmer until the fish has turned a pale pink.  Should take about 12-18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You can leave the vegetables whole or blend them up to create a puree.

 


Day Two - Fahnestock State Park followed by cauliflower soup, snap peas, salad, scallops
The following day we drove up to Clarence Fahnestock State Park wandering around, climbing up rocks and snapping off photographs as if film were free. Oh, that's right, we had digital cameras.  Snap a 1000 and deal with it later! 

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

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Quite honestly, as eye catching as some of the photos are, they never seem to capture the true beauty of nature in its most vibrant state.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

Reflections of a vibrant kind

Reflections of a vibrant kind

After being out in the chill of the day, we needed a little warmth.  What better answers that call than soup.  That night's no fuss easy line up:

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Day Three - Stone Barns followed by pizza, shrimp & salad
We drove Marta and Illy to one of our favorite local treasures; Stone Barns at Rockefeller State Perserve   I think you can tell by those smiles that we had a good time.  We hiked around for a leisurely 5 mile trek capturing even more photos of fall’s abundance. Crayola crayons, eat your heart out.

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Illy's gentle essence

Illy's gentle essence

Marta's soulful smile

Marta's soulful smile

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

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Oodles of color and lushness.

Oodles of color and lushness.

Upon returning for our final evening together, we felt like keeping it cozy with comfort food. I made an array of pizzas as appetizers followed by a quick sauté of shrimp and a salad.  Since we had been out on photography adventures all weekend, there was no time to make homemade dough. Store bought version does the trick and works like a charm.  

Keeping it warm by the stove

Keeping it warm by the stove

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

I add oil to a bowl, plop the dough inside, cover with a towel and don't let the dough rise too much.  Then I stretch it out with my hands into whatever shape it feels like making and add various toppings.  Here's a few we served that night.

Hot off the stone

Hot off the stone

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

After that yummy goodness, some greens and a protein were all that was needed. 

  • Sautéed jumbo shrimp (with garlic, scallions)
  • Boston salad with celery, fennel, scallion
     
Similar to my  Graped up Bibb Salad

Similar to my Graped up Bibb Salad

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

There was nothing extraordinary about any of these dishes other than good ingredients made with absolute love.  There was, however, moments of extraordinary all weekend long.  Hosting weekend guests doesn't have to turn your life upside down.  And even if it does, you will always land right side up.

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Take a colorful stroll, breathe in the crisp Fall season, spend time with people you love, then return home to a warm meal. Fill your life with special moments and string together your own pearl necklace. 
 

A colorful stoll

A colorful stoll

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

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